On Saturday, I hiked in the Houdek Dunes Natural Area, north of Leland, Michigan. One of the interesting features of Houdek Dunes is the presence of very old white birch trees. Birch trees are a transitional tree in the succession of the forest. You generally see them in parts of the dunes where the forest has begun to take hold.
The trails at Houdek Dunes pass through a mature forest of beech and maple trees. But, in the valleys of the dunes are white birches that are over 100 years old. That is extraordinary for a birch tree.
Time, however, catches up with these old birches and more and more you are likely to see them lying on the forest floor.
The innards of a fallen birch tree decay before its bark. Strewn throughout the forest you see the white remains of a once stately tree.
Of course, the rotting tree provides nutrients to the soil and other vegetation in the area.
And, while the forest is now composed primarily of beeches and maples, you will see an occasional young birch tree fighting to establish itself in the understory.
The birch tree below is my favorite along the trail. Clearly past its prime, it shows evidence of the struggle to compete in the forest. Barren of leaves now, a standing skeleton of a tree, its roots once grabbed for the soil and a branch reached out to find the light among the surrounding red pines. I visit this tree each time I return to Houdek Dunes. I suspect that one of these days, I will find that branch lying on the ground, another victim in the story of forest succession.
For an earlier post on the birches at Houdek Dunes click here.