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What is Driftwood?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By LisaLou — On Sep 29, 2011

I like to add pieces of driftwood to my aquariums. I will usually buy the pieces at an aquatic shop and know they are safe to use. I think they look visually pleasing and notice that the fish like to swim around them and hide behind them too.

The only thing I don't like about adding some pieces of driftwood to the aquarium is they can change the color of the water to a brownish color.

The first time this happened, I thought something was wrong, but found out it is completely normal. It isn't a dark brown color, but just enough that it is noticeable.

Once I got used to the look of it, it's not so bad, but wasn't expecting that when I first put it in.

By OeKc05 — On Sep 29, 2011

I have a friend who decorates her house with dried out driftwood. I really like the natural theme of her home, and the driftwood plays a big part in the overall look.

She collects all sizes and shapes to use for different purposes. She found enough sturdy, long pieces to use as curtain rods. Her curtains are light, so they don’t place too much pressure on the hollow wood.

She places oddly shaped pieces in tall vases as driftwood bouquets. Occasionally, she will stick tall seasonal flowers in there as well.

She made a mirror frame from driftwood. She cut it into several pieces at angles and stacked it up a few pieces high, making a deep frame.

By Mykol — On Sep 28, 2011

My son has a very unique piece of driftwood that he collected on a trip to the ocean. It was quite aged when he found it and is now dry and safe to handle and keep inside.

It is not a huge piece, but has a very interesting shape and color to it. He keeps this piece of driftwood on his desk and not only does it remind him of his trip, but has also been a great conversation starter.

By seag47 — On Sep 28, 2011

@kylee07drg - Your dog should be fine. It is amazing what all they can put in their mouths and not get sick, and driftwood is probably nowhere near the most disgusting thing he has held.

I know lots of guys who hunt, and they train their retrievers by throwing the sticks they find along the edges of ponds for them to fetch. They make the dogs swim way out in the water to retrieve the driftwood, and they drink some of the bacteria and algae infested water along the way.

Dogs around here are always playing in nasty ponds, and they never get sick from it. So, you can let your dog play with as much driftwood as he can fit in his mouth.

By kylee07drg — On Sep 27, 2011

My golden retriever is always picking up driftwood, and I’m worried about it. The pieces he finds in the pond are covered in algae and teeming with insects and bacteria.

I try to get him to drop the driftwood, but he thinks it’s a game, and he wants me to throw it for him. I don’t want to touch the stuff, and I don’t think he should be putting it in his mouth, anyway.

Does anyone know if this kind of driftwood is hazardous to my dog’s health? I know that dogs are tougher than humans, but I just worry.

By cloudel — On Sep 26, 2011

I collect driftwood and use it to decorate my garden. I live near both a river and the ocean, and I have a lot of sand in my yard. I generally find more driftwood along the river banks than on the beach, and I find that it looks great with the patches of sand around my flower bed.

I built a frame for the bed from driftwood. At first, I thought it would be fine just scattered around, but every time the wind would pick up, I would lose a few pieces. So, I started tying the pieces together with straw-colored string. It’s not very noticeable, and it keeps the wood in place.

It looks sort of like a twisted log cabin foundation. I think it’s the perfect flower garden frame for my location.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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