Nurse Log Imagination—Hemlock, Huckleberry, and Salal
I’ve been wanting to do a nurse log as a kusamono planting for quite some time. Always had another project in the way. But recently the creative mood hasn’t led me to work with older trees in the midst of the pandemic, but rather new, fresh, young ones which give a feeling of forward momentum. And that is kusamono territory. It seemed a perfect time to finally head for the mountains to begin the hunt for materials.
Nurse logs are large fallen timber colonized by young trees. The Pacific Northwest forests of the future—the seeds of Western hemlock and Western red cedar—often get their start in the rotting wood of nutrient rich, moist nurse logs. And sometimes these big fallen trees expose their root systems, with soil still attached, offering a place for a cornucopia of plants to germinate.
Nurse log in the Pacific Northwest, showing the typical ‘straight-as-if-planted’ row of trees that germinated on the moss and rotting wood of a former giant (photo by Gerry Ellis).
If you look closely at our chosen ‘nurse stump’ you can see burned areas on it—evidence of a fire in the forest where John and I were picking around for a suitable log. The log, or rather stump with a snag of roots on it, is from a Western red cedar, the giveaways being the broad flare of the base and the thin shreddy bark.
We then collected several small plants—Western hemlock, evergreen huckleberry, and salal—to compose on our nurse stump.
Evergreen huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, a cheerful shrub which retains its shiny, tiny leaves through the mild winters here. And the salal, Gaultheria shallon, is a common understory plant sporting larger evergreen leaves.
Western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla, is the largest hemlock in the world. It’s also one of our climax, late succession trees out here, meaning it comprises part of the final stage of forest succession to eventually form huge, stately, quiet stands along with Western red cedar. These stands are self-perpetuating in the dark spooky gloom of a mature Northwest forest. Nurse logs are mostly an old-growth phenomenon, with complex ‘structure’ (as I heard a naturalist call it once) that includes many types of forest history. I’ve seen char from ancient fires on nurse logs and stumps, and it’s hard not to leave those resilient and elastic forests without a sense of their regeneration and promise.
16″ H x 27″ L