Is Anyone Here a Nurse (Log)?

We here in the Pacific Northwest are very lucky to have true old growth forests in our midst, where Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, and Western redcedars have been standing for hundreds of years.

It’s surreal to stand beneath these trees as they tower above you, giving you a glimpse of what this region may have looked like before we ever settled here. However, these living trees aren’t the only thing that make Washington’s old-growth forests so enchanting; it’s the dead trees, or “nurse logs,” that truly bring our forests to life!

Nurse logs are a spectacle to be seen, and can take up to 600 years to decompose!
Photo by: Nicole Marcotte

A nurse log is a dead or decaying piece of wood that acts as a source of nutrients for new seedlings and plants to grow on, acting as a “nursery” for new growth in the forest. The tree’s life may fade, but the nurse log will take on a new life: it will provide habitat for many insects and birds; it will add nutrients back to the soil, returning more nutrition than it ever took; and it will soak up water like a sponge, which is vital in the dry summer months for feeding young plants.

Nurse logs are a spectacle to be seen, and can take up to 600 years to decompose! Some of our native plants thrive on nurse logs for growth, such as western hemlocks and red huckleberries (pictured growing on the stump above).

Nurse logs are one of the many things that make our forests in the Pacific Northwest so unique! But did you know that you don’t have to drive out into the wilderness to find one? In fact, many of our parks right here in Seattle have nurse logs that you can see right from park trails!

We Challenge You: to get outside with your family and friends, and try to hunt down the nurse logs pictured below. Follow the brief clues and see if you can find these nurse logs from the trails of these highlighted parks throughout Seattle!

Make sure to respect the forest and to have fun! The Green Seattle Partnership hosts regular events in these featured parks to help remove invasive weeds and to plant native trees and shrubs! If you’re interested in volunteering at any of these parks, please visit greenseattle.org for more information!

  • Nicole Marcotte

    Nicole comes to us from the Northeast, where she graduated with a degree in Environmental Studies from St. Michael’s College in Vermont. She made the jump to Seattle to serve as a 2014 AmeriCorps member with EarthCorps. After a year of grubbing immense amounts of blackberry, spraying knotweed along the Cedar River, maintaining trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and planting plenty of native species, she realized that her true passions lie in habitat conservation and restoration. This newfound passion led her Forterra. If she’s not out frolicking through alpine meadows in her free time, you can find her in Washington Park Arboretum where she likes to create botanical-artwork from fallen flowers and foliage.