The living stump

Getting a jump on the “Learn and Share” session scheduled for next week, Docent Gretchen Echols did some research on an unusual Douglas Fir growth and submitted this post.


By Gretchen Echols


      On my tour Friday, across from the woodland pond in Ed’s garden, one of our guests was excited to spy a “living stump.” I had never heard of such a thing. I did a little on-line research and confirmed what she told me about its formation.

      Apparently living stumps are rather rare. They are found only in conjunction with Douglas firs. Twenty to fifty percent of a Douglas fir’s mass is underground root structure. The roots can become intertwined with those of a neighboring tree. The joined roots of a standing neighbor can supply nutrients to a shattered or cut stump. The buddy tree can keep the stump alive for hundreds of years; the cut top of the stump scabbing over with bark and continuing to grow. It takes years for the stump to be completely covered with bark. The living stump will die only when it’s buddy dies, but until that time it is a living part of its support tree.

      To find this special phenomenon, head down the grassy boulevard to Ed’s woodland pond. Gaze at the main pond and then turn 180 degrees. Across the way is the Douglas fir with the climbing hydrangea. Look for the stump to the left of the tree. The stump is smaller in diameter than its neighboring tree. What is unique is that the top of the stump is covered in bark and the edges are softened and somewhat rounded. As my grandniece says, “Amazing.” Happy treasure hunting. 


  1. Christine Hill on May 26, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    Who knew!  How interesting. 

    Who knew!  How interesting.  Thanks Gretchen for following up and sharing with all of us!


  2. Gretchen Echols on June 1, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    more on the stump

    Here’s the link to my information about the Douglas Fir and a reference to the “living stump”. According to this article the trees will “sometimes” form the living stump. Above I said: “Apparently living stumps are rather rare.” Judy Broom questions “rather rare” but I will settle for “sometimes”. According to my thesaurus both rare and sometimes have to do with infrequently, which is the point. The living stump occurs sometimes but not always.

  3. Gretchen Echols on June 1, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    and another thing

    Sometimes other firs can do this.

  4. Penny Kriese on June 3, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Parasite or not?

    Although you have referred to the living stump as being a part of the support tree, the literature notes that the 'buddy tree' benefits from the stump using its own root spread to extend the buddy tree's access to nutrients, etc., thus there is no reason to assume this is some kind of parasitic relationship on the part of the stump, but a more symbiotic one.

    Thanks for this fascinating insight!