What happens when trees fall?

Well, what does happen when trees fall? With today’s gales it’s something I wouldn’t want to see, but it might happen.

I’ve noticed quite a few fallen trees in the forest – some dead, some alive, and actually not all the same in how they’ve fallen. I saw one recently that got me thinking about this – it’s spectacular and thriving, so I’ll write about that at the end of the blog. It’s great!


So I’ve noticed with some fallen dead trees, that some have ripped out their rootplate as they fell:

Many of these trees are hollowing or hollow now, so it’s not obvious what they were like when they were standing. But I was thinking, perhaps they were reasonably solid when they were upright, and the strength of their trunks meant that the rootplate came out of the ground when they fell. It’s quite interesting to see what the roots look like from this perspective.


But, there are also quite a few dead fallen trees where the rootplate is still in the ground:

Some of these are hollow and look recently fallen, or give the sense that they were not robust and solid when they fell – maybe when the standing dead tree is not so solid, the rootplate stays in the ground?


Other trees were definitely cut – you can see the stump in the ground with a clean horizontal saw cut from decades/centuries ago, and the trunk lying nearby:

Often, the trunk has been removed, and just the cut stump remains. I still record the stumps as it’s quite interesting to see where the trees grew so long ago. It’s not clear why some trunks were removed and others left in place. Maybe when they cut the trunk they discovered it was starting to hollow, rather than being smooth clear wood for timber? It’s too far back in time to know. The tree in the photo on the right is a completely hollow shell now – I sometimes see squirrels playing in and around it. Actually one tree that was cut, and decided it would carry on living, is Medusa, in the north of the forest:


What about when a tree is alive and it falls? Well, I saw a great tree last week that reminded me that trees are very aware of gravity and where the sky is. The young oak fell for some reason, but is now growing several new vertical trunks from what would have been its branches:

There’s another tree elsewhere in the forest which I think of as the ‘mossy log tree’ – the trunk is most definitely on the ground and the tree is happening at the ‘top’ end of it:

Another tree that has done this phoenix behaviour is a tree I call the ‘look again tree’ – it’s really easy to walk past it, think that it’s just a mass of brambles/bracken/undergrowth and not realise that it’s a mighty tree! When it was upright, it had a dead hollow trunk, and a living, rounded-over strip of bark. The dead trunk fell one way and the living tree fell another way – it’s very much alive and carries on growing:

See what I mean? The dead trunk is to the left and the living tree is to the right. Very easy to walk past and not see!


If the tree has healthy roots still in the ground when it falls and enough vitality, then the urge to grow will carry on. Here’s the tree I met the other day which shows this perfectly. As I approached the tree I saw how massive the trunk was, but also saw that the bulk of the trunk lay on the ground. This tree fell a few years ago. From the ‘open’ side of the trunk I could see how the inside was full of brown rot, and had been hollowing for some time:

As the tree is really close to the road, I thought I’d check on Google streetview to see if I could find a view of the tree while it was still standing. Sure enough, it was there in 2011, with a tall and impressive trunk:

With all of that trunk’s worth, and root capacity for vitality, there was no reason that it should stop growing, and wow, look at all the growth it’s done since falling!

I guess there’s never a best time to fall, but keeping your roots in the ground is a good start.