Some Snags at Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park


Snags in Stow Lake (watercolor by Heath Massey)

As both an artist and a naturalist I’m drawn to the dead trees on the islands in Stow Lake. Their skeletal remains stand out dramatically against the sky and they exemplify the natural life cycles in the park.  Heavy with ivy, nasturtium and other creeping vines, alive with birds and insects, they are nurturing the next incarnation of the park, whatever that turns out to be.

Dead trees left to decompose in place are called “snags.”  They are an important part of any ecosystem, enriching habitat at all stages of their decay.   Their cracks and crannies provide nesting opportunities and food storage for many animals, including birds, bats, squirrels and raccoons.  Hosting insects, mosses, lichens and fungi, they also offer a rich smorgasbord for feeding wildlife.  And the mosses, lichens and fungi help break down the wood and return nutrients to the soil through the nitrogen cycle.  Raptors of all kinds love to perch on these snags and survey the hunting scene below.  So what’s not to like?

Well, I suppose some might find them unsightly in an urban park designed to look more manicured.  And as they decay they could ultimately fall on unsuspecting passers-by or cars.  But in the right place, like on these isolated islands in Stow Lake, that potential hazard seems far outweighed by the benefits.  I don’t know if these dead trees represent a conscious decision or  just a snag in the maintenance schedule.  But whatever;   I’m sure the local wildlife is grateful for them, as am I.


About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in animals, arts, birds, insects, plants, trees/urban forest, urban ecology, wildlife and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Some Snags at Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park

  1. milliontrees says:

    Lovely art work and important natural history. Especially in our urban parks, there is a tendency to over-manicure. As you point out, wildlife finds these snags very useful.

  2. Stephen Kane says:

    Beautiful work — well do I know that snag. It’s indeed an interesting question whether the numerous snags and downed limbs throughout the park are being left long-term and intentionally, or short-term while financial triage sends workers to address the most exigent needs. (Though if we can’t afford full park service in these flush times, when will we?) I myself rather enjoy the sense of “pocket” or mini-wilderness, the whitened branches and fascinating (aesthetically) displays of decay.

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