The Octopus Tree

Some of the trees here at SHADOW are hundreds of years old. Standing tall, sharing nutrients, weathering storms. These beings were growing tall while the original inhabitants of the wetland harvested Bog Tea, settlers changed the landscape, and when the land received an onslaught of roads, cars, and people.

One tree, the Octopus Tree, is popular at SHADOW for its odd appearance. Its many trunks branch upwards from a single, wide base which serves as a perfect perch for squirrels and adventurous youngsters alike. It’s gorgeous red and brown wood and big, coniferous boughs create deep shade on sunny days or a natural shield from rainy ones.
 
The beauty of this tree is just one piece of its story. The magic of the Octopus Tree is that it is really two trees in one. Its Cedar base, which grew for at least 100 years, is a rotting nurse log from which a hemlock sapling sprung.

Imagine that little Cedar tree, part of the interdependent web of living beings, sprouting in the Upland forest so many years ago. It grew in the rich soil, not far from the shore of Shadow Lake and just upslope from the rich bog peatland that had been developing since the last ice age. In its life, how many animals did the Cedar Tree shelter? How many plants lived beside it for some time? 
 

Above photo credits: Ray Owens 

After its death, the Cedar Tree lives on. To this day, it nurses the Hemlock tree that grew in the stump after it fell. Today, this Hemlock is at least 40 or 50 years old. Tucked in a wetland, its roots snaked down the Cedar Tree’s stump, finding soil and water. Stretching tall, it stood watch while all its neighboring trees were chopped down in the 1990’s, a clear-cut of the forest that happened before SHADOW bought the land. Imagine that day- once surrounded by many living beings, the tree stood alone, tucked in an area too wet to cut, as the land around it became barren.

After that fateful day, The Octopus Tree watched the quick race of invasive species that filled in the 12-acre gap the clear cut left behind. Small sapling trees tried to sprout from its cones and return the land to forest, but the sun-hungry invasive blackberry shaded their tiny leaves and took all the nutrients. The forest’s return was stalled by the power of these plants.

After a few years, a turning point came for the land and for the Octopus Tree. SHADOW Lake Nature Preserve purchased the land and even though it was still covered in blackberry and frozen in an early stage of forest re-growth, the people saw the value and potential of this forgotten forest. The volunteers, and eventually the staff of SHADOW began to help restore the land by taming the blackberries through hours of labor.

Today, the Octopus Tree stands watching as the ecosystem receives another helping hand. Starting this year, and for the next 5 years, SHADOW, the USDA, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are working together to help bring this forest back to life. We have worked to remove all the invasive blackberry, and have it controlled by 90%.

In 2019, we will plant thousands of baby trees that will help restore the interconnected web that the Octopus Tree and all living beings count on for food, shelter, and nutrients. For 20 years, we have committed to maintaining this land and tending these trees. They will soon stand beside The Octopus Tree, who will once again be able to share nutrients and soil with others.

Will you help us plant these trees? Will you help plant the next generation of what will, 200 years from now, be nurse logs for more saplings? The future is truly in our hands.