An Ode to Dead Trees

June 9, 2021 5:22 pm

An Ode to Dead Trees

By Ellen Powell, DOF Conservation Education Coordinator

Contributors: Lisa Deaton, Kenny Thomas, Chris Thomsen 


Recently, I’ve received photos from several DOF staff, which I’d planned to use in a “What’s in the Woods Today?” post. This time, all the photos had something interesting in common: trees that were either going, or gone. Fortunately, a dead tree can be full of life, in more ways than one.

This sassafras in southwest Virginia was at one time among the largest in Virginia. DOF Natural Resource Specialist Kenny Thomas reported that it now appears to be dying.

William Neff measuring a former champion sassafras

William Neff measuring a former champion sassafras; photo by Kenny Thomas

Large, old trees often hollow out before they die, creating habitat for bears to sleep away the winter, or for raccoons to raise their young. Barred owls like this one, spotted along a trail in Albemarle County, nest in natural tree cavities. So there’s a good chance that, in death, a large tree will give new life to wildlife.

barred owl

Barred owl; photo by Ellen Powell

Case in point: While stripping bark to scout for southern pine and Ips beetles, Area Forester Lisa Deaton found this black rat snake cozied up inside a dead pine!

Black rat snake in pine

Black rat snake in pine; photo by Lisa Deaton

We know that trees give us lots of everyday products, from lumber to toilet paper. But occasionally they yield something one of a kind. Recently, a landowner brought part of a white pine trunk to DOF’s Henry County office. He had cut down the dead pine in his yard and found it was hollow in the center, but some limbs that had formed when the tree was very young were still intact. The landowner is still deciding how best to use this oddity – perhaps as a glass-topped table and conversation piece.

White pine trunk with branch remnants

White pine trunk with branch remnants

Removing a yard tree can be expensive, especially when stump grinding is included. Area Forester Lisa Deaton spotted these two examples of tree stump “adaptive reuse” while out and about in the Middle Peninsula.

Three cheers for Virginia trees – dead or alive!


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