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Rotting stumps, stilted roots and various mosses and lichen

Rotting stumps, stilted roots and various mosses and lichen decorate the forest floor along Sanford’s trails.

Photos: Kevin McKeon 
 
Stilted Roots Create a Forest Mosaic 

By Kevin McKeon, Director, Mousam Way Land Trust 

While you’re out enjoying Sanford’s beautiful trails, you’ll occasionally catch sight of stilted or “prop” roots at the base of a tree. This growth happens when a seed falls on a rotting piece of wood covered with moss, which makes an inviting place for the seed to germinate. As it grows, the roots attach to the rotting “nurse” log or stump. The rotting wood eventually recycles to the soil, and the roots that grew on its nurse — the old wood — remain above the forest soil, supporting the tree propped up on stilts. 

The length of the stilts depends on the size of the original rotten wood. But eventually, if the tree grows large enough, the evidence of the stilts will mostly disappear as the stilts merge into a wide-bottomed stump. If the mossy habitat happens to be on the top of a tall stump, the stilts will be quite substantial.  

This growth behavior happens on moss-covered rocks, too. The relative high humidity of shady forest areas that support the mossy habitat will nurture the sapling until its roots reach water and rich nutrients in the forest soil are no longer reliant on the moss habitat. Often, within the nooks and crannies of these stilted roots, collections of leaves, twigs and other forest “duff” will create an inviting seedbed for other forest flora to germinate, creating a harmonious mini mosaic of brush, grasses and wildflowers.  

Nature is a wondrous place to observe the various ways that creatures and the plants that support them intertwine their lives. So, get out in the woods and use ALL your senses as you enjoy Sanford’s trail system!

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