My vacation a few weeks ago to northern Vancouver Island was not particularly plant-focused, but there were a few botanical stand-outs. One of them was this natural stumpery.
The base of an old western red-cedar (Thuja plicata), this gigantic piece of slowly-decaying wood now hosts a number of vascular plants and mosses. A careful eye can spot: western red-cedar, Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), salal (Gaultheria shallon), and twinberry honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata). Other species not very evident in the photo at the resolution I shared are leathery polypody (Polypodium scouleri) and twinflower (Linnaea borealis). Also, compare the colouration of the needles of the two conifers against their counterparts in the background of the photo; the spruce especially shows signs of nutrient-stress, but the western red-cedar is yellower than normal as well. Unfortunately for these plants, they germinated on a site that will lead to a tenuous existence. The shrubs, ferns, and mosses should reach reproductive maturity (if they haven’t already), but I have my doubts about the trees. The location at the high end of the beach also makes the piece of wood susceptible to a storm surge or (not shown in the photo) flooding from the nearby San Josef River (in fact, it is possible this base was deposited on the beach by a flooding river).
Stumperies were in fashion in Victorian Britain (1856 onwards). Similar to the natural assemblage you see in today’s photograph, large dead pieces of wood would be positioned either upside-down or on their side to show the root structure. These would then be planted with ferns, other shade-loving herbaceous plants, mosses, and small shrubs. One hypothesis for the popularity of stumperies was the influx of newly-imported fern species into Britain at the time. What’s old is new again, and stumperies are again becoming fashionable. Two of the largest stumperies in the world are at Highgrove House, Gloucestershire (the home of Prince Charles) and a private garden on Vashon Island in Washington state. For local readers, an easily-accessible stumpery has been created in recent years at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, in Federal Way, Washington.