An Ill Wind at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(first published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, Sept. 23, 2016)

Last week, a strong wind broke a big limb from a cottonwood tree by the Bassett Brook bridge on the east campus.  Awww, what a shame.  But, as my mother used to say, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”  Mother Nature will make a good thing from last week’s wind, no matter what happens.

The first thing that will happen is that our cottonwood tree will send up chemicals to try to deter disease organisms and wood-decaying fungi from entering the wound. Then it will try to cover the wound with a special woundwood or callus.

However, if these defenses fail, many creatures will profit.  Our tree may die or it may remain alive, growing leaves and new branches for birds to nest and caterpillars to eat, while at the same time, wood-rotting fungi are at work inside the tree.   Signs of decay are mushrooms in the soil near the tree, shelf-like mushrooms on the trunks or branches, unclosed cracks, spongy or brittle wood, dead branches in the crown, or ants, termites, fungus beetles, millipedes, pill bugs, or white grubs.  These insects profit from our tree’s unsuccessful defenses, and the bears and woodpeckers in turn profit from the bugs.

Decay also causes cavities–homes for our squirrels, owls, and others.  Long ago, a branch broke off from our 250-year-old “Addison’s Oak” on the east campus.  A cavity formed. 

250-year-old Addison's oak has a hole where a branch broke off.  A porculpine lives there.
250-year-old Addison’s oak has a hole where a branch broke off. A porcupine lives there.

Eleanor  and Richard Johnson’s family spotted the porcupine living in that cavity, and Chuck Gillies’ family photographed it.


So for our cottonwood tree, we’ll see how nature turns an ill wind into somebody’s good.


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