Things to see at this stop:
Pause and take a good look at the tree to your right. This is a post oak; it is not beautiful, but it has suffered much. Down the entire length of the side to your left is a lightning slash which decades ago exposed the heartwood to weather and insect attack, yet the exposed wood remains weathered but firm. In past years, a very large poison ivy vine grew within that slash, a vine that produced normal three-leaflet foliage, but also random leaves with four, five, and even six leaflets. Even that remarkable plant succumbed to the drought years: we miss it.
High on the tree's trunk are large calluses developed by many years of rubbing against another tree that grew too close. The post oak, however, has outlived its neighbor and long survived the lightning strike. It is the nature of post oaks to be relatively impervious to decay. Because of this, as the name implies, they are used for fence posts and also for railroad ties. Unlike its red oak cousins, a fallen post oak (a member of the white oak family) can lie on wet ground for decades before totally decomposing.
To your left across the trail is a large willow oak, a member of the red oak family which also shows a strong "will to live." Years ago it also suffered major injury to its trunk and has long attempted to heal the wound. Unlike the post oak, it is not resistant to decay, and its heartwood has been attacked by beetle larvae and a fungus that sometimes produces bracket- or shelf-like fruiting bodies. Such fungi are exceedingly important decomposers of dead wood, recycling nutrients into the soil. They do not attack the living tissue of trees but they will decompose the inert heartwood if it is exposed. As the fungal filaments invade the wood they feed by producing enzymes that soften it, also making it edible by wood-boring beetle larvae.
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