The surprising beauty and benefits of driftwood

Timber are pillars of their communities, a task they’ll preserve even in loss of life. An upright lifeless tree provides very important habitat to sure birds and bats, for instance, whereas a fallen tree is a bonanza for all times on the forest flooring, together with future timber.

But rotting in place just isn’t the one pure afterlife for a tree. Typically, as a substitute of giving again to its start forest, a tree will embark on an odyssey to pay it ahead, carrying its ecological wealth away from the one house it has ever identified.

These touring timber do not imply to betray their roots; they’re simply going with the circulation. They’ve grow to be driftwood, a time period for any woody remnants of timber that wind up transferring by way of rivers, lakes or oceans. This journey is commonly transient, merely resulting in a distinct a part of the identical ecosystem, however it may possibly additionally ship a tree far out to sea — and possibly even throughout it.

Driftwood is a typical sight at seashores around the globe, though many individuals dismiss it as unremarkable surroundings or ineffective particles. And whereas some driftwood is just a little brief on mystique — like twigs from a close-by tree, or boards that fell off a fishing pier — it can be a ghost from a distant forest or shipwreck, remodeled by its adventures into one thing stunning. Alongside the best way, driftwood tends to return the favor by reshaping and enriching the environments it visits.

In an age when oceans are plagued by plastic trash, driftwood is a reminder that pure marine particles may be benign, even useful. It embodies the delicate ecological hyperlinks between land and water, in addition to the refined magnificence generally hiding in plain sight. In hopes of shedding extra gentle on these qualities, here is a deeper take a look at why driftwood deserves extra consideration:

Home windows of alternative

a hole in a piece of driftwood frames Lake Huron in Ontario

Lake Huron friends by way of a driftwood window at Pinery Provincial Park close to Grand Bend, Ontario. (Picture: Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock)

Lengthy earlier than people constructed boats from lifeless timber, the uncooked supplies have been on the market exploring uncharted waters on their very own. Driftwood might have even impressed our first picket rafts and boats, as historical individuals seen its energy and buoyancy.

Lifeless timber have all the time served as boats, although, simply normally for smaller passengers. Driftwood not solely feeds and shelters a number of tiny wildlife, however may also assist them colonize in any other case unreachable habitats. And its arrival can profit native residents, too, introducing new sources to maintain coastal wildlife and assist buffer their uncovered house from wind and solar.

sculpted pieces of driftwood at Siletz Bay, Oregon

Water has a knack for turning wooden into artistic endeavors, like these tree remnants that washed up from Oregon’s Siletz Bay. (Picture: Dee Browning/Shutterstock)

Relying on the driftwood and the place it washes up, seafaring timber may be useful additions to waterfront habitats that lack the cover and roots of stay timber, resembling rocky seashores or coastal sand-dune ecosystems. Even in locations with loads of timber, just like the banks of a forested river, driftwood typically performs an integral position in increase and shaping the habitat’s infrastructure.

Logging off

driftwood logjam at Panther Creek in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington state

Driftwood can enrich rivers and form their channels over time, as this pure logjam is doing for Panther Creek at Gifford Pinchot Nationwide Forest in Washington. (Picture: Thye-Wee Gn/Shutterstock)

The adventures of driftwood typically start in rivers, and lots of of them keep there. Driftwood is a vital a part of nearly all pure waterscapes around the globe, together with freshwater streams, rivers and lakes in addition to oceans.

Rivers that circulation by way of or close to forests have a tendency to gather items of lifeless timber, generally leading to accumulations of driftwood often called logjams. Over time, these clusters can assist construct up the banks of rivers and even form their channels, influencing not solely the best way water strikes by way of the ecosystem, but in addition what sort of solutes, sediments and natural matter it incorporates.

Driftwood additionally slows down the circulation of a river, serving to it retain extra vitamins to nourish its native wildlife. And by forming a number of totally different microhabitats inside a river channel, driftwood tends to spice up native biodiversity, too.

Much like long-lived beaver dams, driftwood logjams have been identified to persist for hundreds of years if left alone, finally turning into big, landscape-altering rafts. One such logjam, often called the Great Raft, might have been rising for 1,000 years earlier than the Lewis and Clark expedition encountered it in 1806. The raft, reportedly sacred to the native Caddo individuals, held tens of tens of millions of cubic ft of cedar, cypress and petrified wooden, masking practically 160 miles of the Pink and Atchafalaya rivers in Louisiana.

Great Raft of the Red and Atchafalaya rivers, Louisiana

The Nice Raft was a logjam that grew for hundreds of years till its elimination within the 1800s, when it spanned nearly 160 miles of the Pink and Atchafalaya rivers. (Picture: Internet Archive/Flickr)

The Nice Raft might have been a pure surprise, however as a result of it blocked navigation of the Pink River, the U.S. Military Corps of Engineers launched an effort to dismantle it. Initially led by steamboat captain Henry Shreve, the challenge kicked off within the 1830s and took many years to finish, inadvertently reworking the geology of the Decrease Mississippi River watershed within the course of.

“[T]he many lakes and bayous that the Pink River had created in Louisiana and East Texas drained away,” according to the Red River Historian. “The river shortened its path to the Mississippi. To cease the destabilization of the land surrounding the river, the Corps of Engineers needed to implement billions of {dollars} in lock and dam enhancements to maintain the river navigable.”

driftwood at Cheow Lan Lake in Thailand

Driftwood drifts by way of Cheow Lan Lake at Khao Sok Nationwide Park in Surat Thani Province, Thailand. (Picture: Nattapoom V/Shutterstock)

Even below pure situations, nonetheless, rivers hardly ever maintain onto all of their driftwood. Relying on the scale of a waterway, it might let timber and woody particles preserve flowing downstream, finally reaching a brand new atmosphere like a lakeshore, estuary or seashore.

Though driftwood typically decays inside two years, some items final for much longer below sure situations. The Old Man of the Lake, for one, is a 30-foot-tall (9-meter) tree stump that is been bobbing vertically in Oregon’s Crater Lake since at least 1896.

Branching out

driftwood buildup at Olympic National Park in Washington

Driftwood accumulates at Olympic Nationwide Park close to Kalaloch, Washington state. (Picture: Sam Strickler/Shutterstock)

As streams and rivers carry driftwood seaward, massive “driftwood depositories” generally accumulate at a waterway’s mouth. These buildups have existed for roughly 120 million years, courting again nearly so far as flowering vegetation themselves. A few of their driftwood might finally proceed out to sea, whereas different items stick round in a river delta, estuary or a close-by shoreline.

driftwood under a blue sky at Cayo Jutias beach, Cuba

Gnarled driftwood sprawls throughout the seashore at Cayo Jutias within the Pinar del Rio area of Cuba. (Picture: Albin Hillert/Shutterstock)

As with driftwood upstream, previous timber are a boon for the environments the place they find yourself. In lots of estuaries and seashores, they supply construction and stability the place not sufficient stay vegetation develop to anchor the sandy, salty soil with their roots.

These persistent crowds of driftwood — or “driftcretions,” as researchers dubbed them in a 2015 examine — work together with vegetation and sedimentation to affect the evolution of shorelines, encouraging “the formation of advanced, various morphologies that improve organic productiveness and natural carbon seize and buffer in opposition to erosion,” the examine’s authors write.

white driftwood under blue sky at Whitsunday Islands, Australia

Driftwood dominates a scene from Whitehaven Seashore in Australia’s Whitsunday Islands. (Picture: Martin Valigursky/Shutterstock)

Whether or not it is a persistent pile of woody particles or only one huge tree, massive items of driftwood can add a skeleton to sunbaked, erosion-prone ecosystems like open seashores, probably boosting their capacity to assist stay vegetation.

In coastal dune habitats, driftwood “gives partial stabilization of sand dunes, decreasing wind erosion and permitting vegetation to achieve buy,” according to Beachcare magazine, produced by the Waikato Regional Council in Waikato, New Zealand. “The driftwood can also create a small wind barrier (or microclimate), which might permit seeds and seedlings to remain damp and shielded from wind erosion. Driftwood might even carry seeds from the forest to the coast, which can germinate whether it is hardy sufficient.”

flowering vegetation at Playa Guiones in Nosara, Costa Rica

Driftwood can provide shelter and different sources that make a seashore extra hospitable for wildlife, typically serving to settlers like these seashore vegetation in Nosara, Costa Rica. (Picture: Colin D. Younger/Shutterstock)

Driftwood can provide shelter for beach-dwelling animals, too, as can the vegetation it permits. Some shorebirds, for instance, nest beside driftwood as a manner of hiding their eggs from predators and defending them from being buried in sand.

And even for coastal wildlife that does not actually need driftwood, it is exhausting to disclaim the comfort of a lifeless tree on the seashore:

bald eagle perches on driftwood in Nova Scotia

A bald eagle perches on driftwood at Cape Dauphin on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. (Picture: Paul Reeves Images/Shutterstock)

Touring habitat

driftwood floating in Washington state

Driftwood can function a ‘floating reef’ for numerous wildlife after it departs dry land. (Picture: Bryce Jackson/Shutterstock)

For driftwood that leaves terra firma to start a brand new life at sea, the chances of ever returning to land are fairly slim. However being misplaced at sea would not essentially imply their travels are a misplaced trigger. As author Brian Payton noted recently in Hakai Magazine, driftwood can keep afloat within the open ocean for about 17 months, the place it provides uncommon facilities like meals, shade, safety from waves and a spot to put eggs. As such, pelagic driftwood turns into a “floating reef” that may host quite a lot of marine wildlife.

That features wingless water striders (aka sea skaters), which lay their eggs on floating driftwood and are the one bugs identified to inhabit the open ocean. It additionally consists of greater than 100 different species of invertebrates, Payton provides, and a few 130 species of fish.

As marine driftwood decays close to the floor, it hosts a particular succession of tenants. It is usually first colonized by salt-tolerant, wood-degrading micro organism and fungi, together with a number of different invertebrates that make wood-degrading enzymes. (These embrace gribbles, tiny crustaceans that bore into driftwood and digest it from inside, creating burrows that different animals later exploit.) These preliminary settlers are adopted by secondary colonizers like talitrids, aka driftwood hoppers, that may’t digest wooden on their very own.

wood piddocks that bored into driftwood in Florida

Driftwood gives habitat for a lot of animals, together with boring bivalves like these wooden piddocks on Cayo Costa Island, Florida. (Picture: James St. John/Flickr)

Gribbles are key colonizers of lifeless timber in shallow waters, however they are not the one animals that bore holes into driftwood. There are additionally bivalve mollusks like wooden piddocks and shipworms, for instance, which make their houses by boring into waterlogged wooden. Though wooden piddocks and shipworms are identified for inflicting injury to ships, piers and different picket buildings, in addition they serve useful roles in marine ecosystems, serving to open up driftwood to a broader assortment of marine life.

After a 12 months or extra of floating close to the floor, any driftwood that does not wash again onto land someplace finally sinks towards the seabed. At a sure depth and strain, “the ocean squeezes the final little bit of terrestrial air out of the wooden, changing it with brine,” writes evolutionary marine ecologist Craig McClain. “So begins the story with a tree sinking into the deep.”

This descent, referred to as a “wooden fall,” claims driftwood starting from small fragments to 2,000-pound giants, McClain provides. It attracts timber into yet one more new ecosystem, the place totally different communities of creatures are ready to complete it off. This consists of deep-sea bivalves of the genus Xylophaga, which convert the wooden into droppings that in flip assist dozens of different invertebrates.

driftwood tree covered in barnacles in Auckland, New Zealand

This huge driftwood tree, coated in gooseneck barnacles, drew widespread fascination when it washed ashore in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2016. (Picture: Fiona Goodall/Getty Photographs)

Typically, although, even massive driftwood finds its manner again ashore earlier than disappearing into the abyss. And apart from the ecological advantages talked about earlier, this could let individuals on land see the abundance of driftwood dwellers which can be usually out of sight and out of thoughts. In December 2016, for instance, the tree pictured above obtained worldwide news protection when it washed ashore in New Zealand, because of its thick coating of gooseneck barnacles.

A courageous new whorl

closeup of driftwood texture

The aesthetic quirks of driftwood rely on quite a lot of components, together with the species of tree, the way it lived and what it has been by way of since. (Picture: Sue A. Dunning/Shutterstock)

Even with out the oddity of a barnacle blanket, driftwood that washes ashore typically wows people who hassle to look intently. Its travels have a tendency to brighten the wooden in aesthetically attention-grabbing methods, creating an infinite array of intricate shapes and patterns.

detail of driftwood texture in Oregon

An intricately whorled driftwood log hosts vegetation alongside the New River in southwestern Oregon. (Picture: U.S. Bureau of Land Administration)

These driftwood designs vary from mesmerizing swirls and whorls to clean ripples and gnarled protrusions, all summary results of the environmental forces a selected piece of wooden has skilled throughout its mysterious journey.

detail of swirling driftwood texture from Little Talbot Island State Park in Florida

Psychedelic swirls trace on the adventures this driftwood logged earlier than washing ashore on Florida’s Little Talbot Island. (Picture: Jessica Therriault/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fee/Flickr)

The reward of driftwood

model of a baidarka, or Aleutian kayak made with driftwood

It is a mannequin of a baidarka, an historical kind of driftwood-framed kayak created by indigenous individuals within the Aleutian Islands. (Picture: Joseph/Flickr)

On prime of its aesthetic charms, driftwood additionally has an extended historical past of sensible makes use of by individuals. It has been key to indigenous individuals within the Arctic, as an illustration, whose largely treeless environments provide few sources of wooden aside from logs washing in from faraway forests. Conventional boats just like the kayak and umiak have been constructed from driftwood frames wrapped in animal skins.

driftwood shelter at Richmond Beach, Washington

Coastal individuals have lengthy used driftwood to construct shelters, an historical custom that also conjures up buildings like this one at Richmond Seashore in Washington state. (Picture: Rob Casey/Shutterstock)

Past boats, driftwood has discovered myriad other uses as a coastal building materials all through human historical past, from canine sleds and snow footwear to fishing spears and kids’s toys. The washed-up stays of timber additionally present helpful timber for beachfront shelters, as driftwood remains to be generally utilized by trendy beach-goers.

people gathering driftwood to make charcoal in the Philippines

Individuals accumulate driftwood to make charcoal by the Philippines’ Agos River in 2005, a 12 months after damaging floods that have been blamed on unlawful logging. (Picture: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Photographs)

From the Arctic Circle to tropical islands, driftwood may be particularly helpful as firewood. Even in locations with numerous dwelling timber, driftwood can assist discourage deforestation by providing a supply of timber that does not add strain to native forest sources. That is a probably huge deal in locations the place deforestation has elevated the danger of abrasion, flooding and landslides.

tree sapling growing from driftwood

Driftwood can assist enhance a seashore’s capacity to assist future sources of driftwood. (Picture: Trance Blackman/Shutterstock)

In lots of settings, nonetheless, the easiest way to make use of driftwood could also be to only go away it alone, letting it drift wherever destiny takes it. It would sprout a brand new tree that can grow to be driftwood itself someday, or wash again out to sea and nourish a cascade of marine creatures.

Or it would simply sit there within the surf for some time, quietly ready to fascinate anybody who occurs to float by.

driftwood at sunset in Kudat, Sabah, Borneo, East Malaysia

Waves work round a tangle of driftwood at sundown in Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. (Picture: Macbrianmun/Shutterstock)


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