When we imagine a forest, we think of trees, plants, shrubs, algae, insects, animals, butterflies, mushrooms, flowers, creepers and many more living beings that lend vibrancy to this wonderful aspect of nature.
Dead trees are referred to as ‘snags.’ What happens when a tree dies in the forest? No one removes it, let alone destroys it, by burning or burying; it is just left to be. Of what good is a dead tree? Well, when a tree dies, the tree itself may have ceased to live, but it continues to foster an intricate ecosystem of biota that is truly enthralling. A dead tree is valuable habitat for a host of other species like birds, insects and reptiles. It hosts algae, lichen and moss, which in turn, provide food and sustenance to a host of other organisms.
That is why in informed societies where forests are part of conservation plans, dead trees – whether standing or fallen – are left undisturbed, to exist cheek-by-jowl with other constituents of the forest. A tree that has been dead for a very, very long time might start disintegrating with sustained exposure to sunlight, rain, moisture and wind.
Even as it disintegrates, it turns into valuable compost with minerals and roughage that enriches the soil of the forest.The Northwestern Illinois Forestry Association lists at least 38 species of birds “that excavate nest holes or use existing holes in dead or dying trees and 29 species of mammals that use tree cavities for various purposes.”
Snags with dried up branches are favourite perches for birds like vultures, as they serve as good vantage points to spot prey. Other birds known for their musical skills perch on the branches and practise their vocals. Snags are favourites of woodpeckers that drum away, signaling their territory.
Trees are regarded as sacred in all cultures, faiths and religions. They are worshipped, prayed to, and there are ceremonies that pay tribute to trees and their life-giving nature. This is perhaps why recently, in an urban set-up, when a hundred-year-old Fir tree was to be cut down in Berkely, California, members of a neighbouring Buddhist monastery organized a little ceremony to thank the tree and the wildlife associated with it for all their contributions and read out a touching farewell notice for having to cut it down. Local authorities had decided to cut down the tree, as it had grown old and weak, posing danger to pedestrians and neighbours.
Heng Sure, Reverend at the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery wrote the following tribute: “To the Grand and Nobel Douglas Fir on Grant and Bancroft Streets and to all beings living in this tree: birds, animals, insects, spirits, and others:
We respectfully inform you that due to your poor health and taking into consideration the safety of the community, we will need to remove you on Monday, November 18, 2019.
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