Driftwood is wood that has been washed onto a shore or beach of a sea or river by the action of winds, tides, waves or man. It is a form of marine debris or tidewrack.
In some waterfront areas, driftwood is a major nuisance. However, the driftwood provides shelter and food for birds, fish and other aquatic species as it floats in the ocean. Gribbles, shipworms and bacteria decompose the wood and gradually turn it into nutrients that are reintroduced to the food web. Sometimes, the partially decomposed wood washes ashore, where it also shelters birds, plants, and other species. Driftwood can become the foundation for sand dunes.
Most driftwood is the remains of trees, in whole or part, that have been washed into the ocean, due to flooding, high winds, or other natural occurrences, or as the result of logging. Other sources include the remains of man-made wooden objects, including buildings and their contents washed into the sea during storms, wooden objects discarded into the water from shore (flotsam), dropped dunnage or lost cargo from ships (jetsam), and the remains of shipwrecked wooden ships and boats. Erosion and wave action may make it difficult or impossible to determine the origin of a particular piece of driftwood.
Burning driftwood can produce polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs), also known as the misnomer "dioxins", which are carcinogenic. For this reason burning driftwood is not recommended.  The formation of PCDDs is well documented when organic compounds are combusted in the presence of chlorine, which is present in driftwood as a result of soaking in seawater.
Driftwood can be used as part of decorative furniture or other art forms, and is a popular element in the scenery of fish tanks.
Driftwood in history
According to Norse mythology, the first humans, Ask and Embla, were formed out of two pieces of driftwood, an ash and an elm, by the god Odin and his brothers, Vili and Vé.
Driftwood carried by Arctic rivers was the main, or sometimes only, source of wood for some Inuit and other Arctic populations living north of the tree line until they came into regular contact with European traders. Traditional Inuit boats such as the kayak were fashioned from driftwood frames covered in skins. Wood that is burned today in these regions mainly consists of the remains of condemned wooded structures. Driftwood is still used as kindling by some.
The "Old Man of the Lake" in Crater Lake, Oregon is a full-size tree that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for more than a century. Due to the cold water of the lake, the tree has been well preserved.
Sculpture made of driftwood has been constructed on beaches or mudflats:
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