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When walking the woods and swamps, one often finds where a tree has fallen over with the root system sticking into the air and a hole where the roots once resided.

This is called a tree throw.

The target of ecological studies, tree throws have yielded fascinating information, but in coastal Louisiana, they provide interesting habitats for the naturalist to explore.

Tree throws usually result in a bowl-shaped depression formed when the roots are ripped from their growth zone.  This may expose less weathered soils to the air, and over time the holes are filled in by sediment and organic matter. 

They are havens for certain types of animals, and the fact that they may hold water when surrounding sites are drying makes them important to wildlife.  They provide drinking water, cooling pools, habitat for developing tadpoles and dragonflies, feeding and resting sites for snakes, and always, at some point, a wonderful growth zone for interesting plants.

Tree throws are prevalent along slopes in ravines and other steep zones, and are responsible for transport of soils down slope, making them a major factor in overall succession in many habitats.

In the spirit of thinking like a naturalist, when you encounter a tree fall, be sure to look around it to see if any critters are using it for hiding or feeding.  Make sure to note the direction the tree has fallen.  Are there other such falls in the vicinity?  Are they all lying at the same angle (this is why a good naturalists tool is a compass or a compass app on a cell phone)?  Imagine what may have precipitated the event.  Any recent wind storms?  Could it be an artifact of an aging tree or forest?

If it is a recently created tree throw, an added interest should be that it may have unearthed artifacts from previous human activity in the area:  shards of pottery, bones, Civil War artifacts, trappers’ tools, or even some of Jean Lafitte’s long-lost treasures!

Although tree throws may appear anywhere, they are especially obvious in our area in swamps and older growth forests.  This makes them yet another reason to focus your natural history foray in healthy, aging woodlands, be they swamps or mesic forests.

Dave Dancer examining a tree throw at the Northlake Nature Center, Mandeville, La. Photo by Bob Thomas.

Tree throw at the Northlake Nature Center, Mandeville, La.  Photo by Bob Thomas. 

Tree throw on the Coquille Trail, Barataria Unit of the Jean Lafitte National Historic Park & Preserve.  Photo by Kimberly Taylor.