Excelsior for the Animals

Excelsior for the Animals

If you happen to visit our neighbors at the Oregon Zoo in the next few weeks, you might not think much about the wood shavings that some of the animals are using as bedding. But there's actually an interesting story behind how this natural material, often known as excelsior or wood wool, made it into these habitats in the first place.

Funny enough, before it added to the comfort of zoo animals ranging from primates to polar bears, this excelsior arrived to us as cushioning for animals of a different sort — concrete ones! Each spring, our annual shipment of garden statuary arrives in huge cardboard boxes tightly packed with these red aspen wood shavings. Due to the way they’re cut (one of our team members once described them as “spaghettified wood”) they make for a surprisingly fluffy-yet-sturdy packing material that does a great job of preventing objects from shifting and breaking during transit. But after these boxes are unpacked, we’re left with a palettes full of perfectly good wood shavings. It seems like a waste to simply discard this excelsior, so last spring, we set out to find another use for this material.

Historically, we have used excelsior as composting “brown material” or even as a mulch in our gardens, but last year, we were struck by a moment of inspiration when unpacking a statue of two sleeping puppies that looked as though they had simply dozed off on a bed of excelsior. Suddenly, the question occurred to us: Would real-life animals use the excelsior as bedding? A few emails to the Zoo confirmed that, yes, they would!

In early February, we packed up our excess of excelsior in a truck and drove it over to the Zoo, where a group of volunteers helped to unload our donation just as they had the year prior. We are excited to report that these wood shavings are already being used across the habitats of many different animals, including the orangutan family pictured above! We are proud to have not only found a more sustainable second life for this humble shipping material, but to have supported the commendable animal care efforts of the Oregon Zoo and their important work in species recovery and conservation education. If you see a few primates getting cozy on a bed of wood wool in the coming weeks or stop to admire any of the garden statues around the Farm that were once tucked into this excelsior themselves, we hope you’ll be reminded of the impact we can have as community when we cooperate to find new ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle to make a difference for the planet.

As part of the Metro family, the Oregon Zoo helps make greater Portland a great place to call home, and we are proud to call them our neighbors. Committed to conservation, the Zoo is working to save endangered California condors, northwestern pond turtles, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, and northern leopard frogs. To learn more, visit oregonzoo.org/conserve. Beyond our recycling efforts and relationships with likeminded organizations and companies that value sustainability, Cornell Farm’s planet-friendly promise informs our exclusive use of organic fertilizers and remedies, our commitment to sourcing locally whenever possible and only carrying plants grown without the use of neonicatinoids — including a robust selection of natives — and more.