October 07, 2012

What rot

I love this time of year because everything is decaying; and decay means new life. At Morden Hall Park, dead trees are left to rot; breaking down over many years, the wood provides a home for insects like stag beetles, which live for six years in rotting wood as a grub before pupating. They're becoming increasingly rare, but have a stronghold in leafy South London, where councils and landowners like the NT are increasingly letting sleeping logs lie. This log has become so broken down and fertile that mosses and even grass have been able to colonise it. It's also been chosen as a latrine site by local rabbits, adding further nutrients:

Elsewhere, a crop of tiny fungi mark the place where a tree was felled many years ago; the rotting wood under the surface of the soil plays host to the underground network of hyphal threads that push up the fruiting bodies each autumn:

The fungi will help break down the wood, making it available to other organisms and ultimately enriching the soil. But it's not just the trunks of trees that feed future growth and life: the leaves are starting to fall, beginning their long journey that will end in soil.