We were outside today playing, enjoying the sunshine. There was a lull in the activity, so I took the opportunity to point out that the tree above us was beginning to have leaves. “Soon, you won’t be able to see the sky through the limbs because there will be so many leaves.” We talked a bit more about how trees go from having no leaves, to having little ones, then larger leaves. Then fall comes, the leaves change color and drop. Not really an in-depth conversation. Nothing was said about the chemicals released by the tree for such processes to happen, nor about the mechanics of how it works. Just that it happens.
One of the kids was sitting on a stump.
“Did you know, the stump you are sitting on … (hm, they may not know what ‘stump’ means) well, what you are sitting on is called a stump. It used to be a tree.”
Of course. The ever present, “Why?”
“It was leaning towards the house, so we had it taken down when they were removing a few other trees. Do you want to see another stump?”
And so ensued the lesson on stumps. The second stump we looked at was much more interesting. It was from a tree that was dead and didn’t know it. Yes, that was my official diagnosis. Very technical wasn’t it. Anyway, due to the state of the tree before it was removed this stump was much more decomposed than the original stump. I pointed out how the bark breaks down and makes dirt. Hands on learning ensued.
“Insects break it down and soon it will be all gone.” I started to pull up bits of the stump, amazed at how loose and easy they were. One of the pieces produced a surprise. A slug. Now, as a gardener I am not normally happy to see slugs. However, with boys sitting beside me I was happy to find a slug.
“Can I touch?”
Now, I wish I could say that I was more than eager to engage in hand-on learning immediately in this situation, but I replied without thinking. “No.”
Hmmm. I had to stop and think. Why is it that I said, “no”? Why couldn’t they touch it? Was I worried about them hurting the slug? Was I worried that they would get sick from something on the slug when they then stuck their fingers in their mouths? Did I just think the thought of touching it myself was icky?
So I amended my reply. “Yes, you can touch it, but be careful. The slug is not happy that we disturbed it.”
Now came an interesting realization. One that I had witnessed before, but in a different situation. Older Boy didn’t want to touch it, but encouraged Younger Boy to do so. I think I see which might be the one more likely to have a bug collection.
After showing them that it had no feet, we put it back under the piece of wood that had come from. Continuing with my curiosity, I pulled up another large chunk and found yet another slug. It too was shown. Again, Older Boy wanted nothing to do with touching it, but Younger Boy did. Now, wait here guys. I’m the girl. Isn’t it supposed to be ME that doesn’t want to touch the slimy, squishy slug? I think we will have to work on this a bit.
They were done with the second stump and were requesting more. So on to a third. Now, this was turning into quite the lesson on stumps. So far the two we have seen have been very different. #1 was from a healthy maple tree (Acer spp.) and barely broken down. Some fungus had started to grow on the bark of the stump, but otherwise it was in great shape. #2 had great soil in the middle of the stump and is deteriorated enough that I could pull it up by hand.
Well, stump #3 was from a buckeye tree (Aesculus glabra). This stump has been prolific with stump sprouts. I have cut and sprayed to no avail. That was okay today as it provided a lesson in buds and leaves. I showed them a bud that had yet to open, one that had opened but the leaves were still curled tight, and other where the leaves had fully unfurled. Of course, lots of touching and “ooh, aah” went on. But first, we looked in the middle under dead leaves that had become trapped there.
We found a worm under the leaves, which I picked up on the request of Older Boy, who then would not touch it. Younger Boy was eager to touch and did so gently. We then looked at the soil under the leaves. I had intended to show how the leaves were breaking down and so on. What I realized when I picked up some of the soil was that it was actually mostly worm castings. This little guy in my hand had been busy breaking down those leaves. So, we put him back so he could “do his job”.
So three very different stumps and experiences. Surely they are good with the stumps we have found. But, oh no. They want more. Well, our yard didn’t have any more, but the neighbor’s did. It is right on the line between our yards, so it wasn’t like we were traipsing through their yard. Stump #4 was even more different. It was the oldest of the stumps, though it too was from a buckeye tree. It was a gnarled outline of where a small tree used to be. Perhaps about 6 inches in diameter. The center was completely full of dirt, there was no bark to be seen, and it was barely 1/4 of an inch in width around the ‘circle’ that was there. Yet, there was a bud sprouting out of the base. That is the only way I knew what kind of tree this had been. That fact was mentioned, then all interest in this unique stump was gone. However, I’m glad we took a closer look as I had noticed this stump several times and always wondered a bit about it. Now at least I know what kind of tree it had been and that it had been a tree.
I was out of stumps to look for in the yard, so “stump” #5 was actually a hole in the ground where a stump used to be. Not really exciting, but perhaps a good point to show that stumps are not always there.
So ended our study of stumps around our yard. I now have a new appreciation for stumps. Honestly, I had never really given them much though or taken a close look at what makes them different or the same.
How about you? Ever taken a look at a stump? Do you have a favorite?