Driftwood is floating wood that has wound up on the shore due to the actions of the elements. Many people associate this wood particularly with the ocean, but it can also be found near lakes and rivers. Since the wood can float for an extended period of time, it is often bleached by the sun. Driftwood is a common source of fuel in regions where it washes ashore, and it is also used in art pieces and to make structures ranging from sculptures to fences, depending on the type involved.
There are many sources for driftwood. Large branches may be brought down during storms, for example, and occasionally whole trees are uprooted and they travel to areas of open water with currents. It can also come from wrecked boats and other human structures, sometimes taking the form of finished lumber. During stormy weather, high wind and waves can cause a large accumulation of the wood on beaches; some of it will wash back out to sea if it is not collected.
As the wood floats in the water, it may be eaten by bacteria, colonized by various aquatic life, or covered in algae. The outer layers of bark are often stripped out, and boring animals may dig a network of tunnels through the wood. When it washes ashore, driftwood is often extremely light after it dries out, and it can make an excellent source of tinder. On beaches that routinely become covered with it, people may also build structures from large logs that have washed ashore. These structures can get quite elaborate, especially when effort is made to build them in a structurally sound fashion.
Driftwood sculpture is not uncommon in areas where large amounts collect. Some artists use the formerly floating wood as is, while others may carve or cut it, using it to make bases for sculptures, picture frames, and other crafts. The wood can also be used to make furniture, canes, and fences. On the beach, driftwood provides shelter to a range of shore-loving organisms, ranging from insects to shellfish.
In some areas, driftwood can become a nuisance. In stormy weather, it can pose a navigational hazard in bays and inlets, and many communities collect as much as possible when it washes up on the beach to prevent it from washing back out again to threaten boat traffic. It is also difficult to walk on a beach which is covered in driftwood, and some people find the aesthetic of a covered shoreline displeasing.