The Great Red Oak Snag of Green Earth's Fernlands

Many Green Earth hikers are familiar with sign post #10 at Green Earth’s Fernlands preserve. It marks the mighty and dead red oak tree.  These trees are called snags, and sometimes den trees if their cavities are inhabited by an animal other than an insect.  Snags provide support to wildlife and the ecosystem in many ways, and they provide it in various stages for a long time considering they are in a constant state of degradation. They support life to every type of forest creature, including reptiles, mammals, and birds.  Amphibians and fish benefit when they fall on or near watersheds, and even plants like mushrooms and lichens grow on them.


Snags provide the following benefits to wildlife:

Home sweet home!

  • Holes in both live and dead trees provide homes for birds and mammals. They also grow mushrooms, lichens and mosses, and sometimes ferns!


  • Snags provide a home for other forms of life like insects, that in turn provide food for the food chain. They also can be used to store food, just like our pantries.

Strategic Offense and Defense!

  • Snags are used for hide outs by pursued critters and can be used as look outs by any animal who is looking for food or watching for enemies.

Full circle!

  • Snags and fallen trees slowly return nutrients back to the soil, completing the circle of life that may have lasted more than 200 years.

Below are pictures of the Fernlands red oak snag that span over 8 years.  The first was taken in late 2008 and the snag still had its bark intact, making a great hiding place for insects and reptiles, and a bountiful feeding ground for birds.  The second was taken at a Green Earth work day in January 2017.  You can see the tree still stands strong, but with less bark and protruding limbs. There are countless tiny holes in the tree and likely some cavities inside the tree that are home to some forest animals.  There could even be a nest in the top.

When the tree actually died is unclear.  Maybe someone out there can shed some light on that and we can find out approximately how long this dead tree has been serving the ecosystem that it belongs to.

Fernlands is owned by Green Earth Inc in Carbondale, Illinois.  They own 6 properties in and around Carbondale and you can find them online at


Red Oak Snag or Den Tree        Red Oak Snag or Den Tree - Top