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Gnarled Old Trees Help Keep Our Planet Healthy

Centuries old cottonwood with lightning scarred trunk is home to birds and other wildlife.
Centuries old cottonwood is home to wildlife

Gnarled old trees with holes and broken limbs are important for healthy ecosystems. That may sound strange, but it's true. These big old trees that have stood for hundreds of years help many kinds of wildlife find homes.


An article written by George Monbiot in the Aug. 13, 2021 The Guardian Weekly made a case for how important these ancient habitats are. They have often taken centuries to develop into a place where other species can thrive.


Monbiot writes, "Bats shelter in splits in the trunk. Forks hold tiny pools of water or pockets of soil. Jagged wounds where limbs have sheared, burrs and excrescences, scrapes from which resin bubbles, ivy, vines, lichens and mosses, tangles of twigs and derelict nests, peeling bark and fire scars are all crucial wildlife habitats."


Even more important that those, he adds, are holes in the trees that provide shelter for all kinds of animals. Even pesky woodpeckers and flickers help with this process. The holes their long, sharp beaks bore into trees eventually become homes for a variety of animals. As they bore into the wood, their beaks carry fungal spores that help to make the wood softer so holes can develop more easily. Trees that provide the best wood for boring into are big, old, and rotten.


Unfortunately, around the world many of these trees are disappearing. Major wildfires can wipe them out. When the trees go, the holes that provide homes for animals disappear as well.


Though removing dead or dying trees from forests seems like a sensible thing for people to do, in reality, Monbiot writes, it "is one of the most damaging human activities."


Those old growth areas with their gnarled ancient trees offer living quarters for so many birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and other kinds of life. Without a safe place to live, those life forms could not thrive. Those ancient habitats help to keep our world healthier.

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