Open ground in nature is ruled by an observable and shifting hierarchy. If you go into the woods the tall trees dominate the soil. Smaller trees and shrubs either thrive in the under-storey or hang on until a big tree falls and a piece of sky becomes available. In the redwood forests of coastal northern California, Douglas fir seeds sprout on the fallen trunks of redwood giants where one piece of sky has opened. You may see a perfectly straight line of mature Douglas firs and know where an ancient redwood fell hundreds of years ago. Walking through a redwood forest one does not ask the silly existential question about the tree falling when no one is there to hear it. The impact of a fallen tree reaches from the original crack and boom to the vibrant structure of today’s forest.
Beneath the shrubs are the woodland perennials that we know as wildflowers and vines. In many instances they need the cover of trees.
In meadows and mountainsides, where trees could not or have not seeded in, every inch of ground that can provide a foothold is taken. Hayfields that go unmown will shrink as the forests on their edge seed into the open ground. When human or natural forces strip the soil from the underlying rock, centuries will go by before the land will return to its old vitality.