Written By Brendan Murphy.

Posted on June 27th, 2016.

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Trees and woodlands can appear frozen in time, but in truth they’re constantly changing. Usually this change happens slowly, but sometimes it occurs in the blink of an eye.

On June 23, 2015 a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through the northeastern US. It wasn’t the biggest storm, but it was big enough. Winds gusted to nearly 50 mph and caused numerous reports of downed trees and power lines.

My office at Hilltop Hanover Farm was no exception. The thunderstorm tore a large branch from an even larger sycamore tree.

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That immediate change was obvious, but the real change would take months to play out. And the story of that change isn’t one of destruction, but one of renewal.

One of the first changes was that way up in the sycamore, new branches began shooting out from where the branch had broken off. Eventually, the gap in the canopy will fill in with this new growth.

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Down at the scene of the crash, other changes were happening. The large end of the branch landed in a spring seep, where it ponded the water just enough to add some diversity to the area. With time, the branch will decay and become a home to amphibians.

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When the branch fell, it crushed a small black cherry tree. But while the cherry tree snapped, it stayed alive. It’s hard to tell in the picture below, but new leaves are in fact growing from its branches. Those branches will sport white flowers that provide food for pollinators, and come autumn, they may even bear fruit.

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Granted, that pile of crushed wood and sticks might look unsightly, but to many wildlife species, that dense, interlocking brush looks like home. Animals as diverse as butterflies, chipmunks, foxes, lizards, quail, rabbits, songbirds, toads, and woodpeckers will all use brush piles like this one for cover.

This brush pile even has an extra dose of wildlife habitat in it. Peering inside the jumble of dead branches and new growth, I spotted a large rock perched on top of another rock. The formation has created a small cave. It might not have been much use for wildlife before, but with the extra protection from the sycamore branch, it may provide an excellent den for some woodland critter.

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Storms can certainly change the character of woodlands, and that can be a total shock when it happens on your property. But these shocking aesthetic changes aren’t necessarily bad for the woods. They’re natural events, and they can be of great benefit to many plants and wildlife. When a storm changes your woods, try to look past the damage and see the change as a unique opportunity to watch and learn about nature’s unmatched ability to recover.

If you’d rather not wait for the next storm, you can also check out the Fire and Storm Damage section of the MyWoodlot Forum. I have a post there where I’ll continue to put up photos of this storm damage so you can see how it plays out.


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