I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with how amazing trees are. From a tiny seed grows a massive organism that feeds itself with water and nutrients from the earth, absorbs the energy of the sun directly, then provides food and shelter for many other organisms, including us. Trees produce approximately 20% of the oxygen on Earth. They are the ultimate philanthropists.
They bother no one, contribute more to their environment than they take, and adapt to their surroundings, often thriving in the most hostile environments.
A grown tree produces seeds which are then spread by squirrels, birds, humans, the wind, rivers, oceans, any number of things. When the tiny seed finds an acceptable environment, it grows.
Think about how incredible this very common scenario is: a bird eats a seed from a tree, the seed travels with the bird, passing through its digestive tract, the bird diarrheas out the seed onto the ground, the seed grows into a giant tree and lives for sometimes hundreds or thousands of years, with hundreds or thousands of its own offspring growing into trees in a similar manner. Truly, life is a gigantic coincidence.
What we see of a tree is often only half or less of the whole organism. It grows toward the sky and toward the earth’s core. Next time you see a tree, try to imagine the expansive network of roots underneath it.
And now I present you with some of Earth’s most…
The divi-divi is native to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and northern parts of South America. On Aruba, it acts as a natural compass, always pointing southeast due to the persistent tradewinds from the northwest, giving it an incredibly unique, somewhat retarded look. Amazing.
The baobab is probably the most interesting looking tree I’ve ever seen. In the summer when it sheds its leaves, it looks like the roots are on the top of the tree. Legend has it that God was angry with the tree so he planted it upside-down.
Native to Madagascar, a place high on my need-to-visit list, these trees are able to withstand severe drought conditions because their trunks can store up to 32,000 gallons of water. That’s about as much water as a normal in-ground pool contains. Baobabs also bear delicious, nutritious fruits and leaves and provide shelter and a number of other benefits to humans. Due to these philanthropic characteristics, it has been dubbed the Tree of Life.
Since baobabs don’t grow rings in their trunks like other trees, dating them is difficult. However, it’s been estimated that they can live for several thousand years.
Although coastal redwoods grow taller than giant sequoias, up to 378 feet vs up to 311 feet, giant sequoias are Earth’s biggest trees by volume. They are freaking gigantic, sometimes more than 52,000 cubic feet, 2.7 million pounds, and taller than a 30 story building. Their natural habitat is limited to the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada range, and they can live longer than 3,000 years. Three…thousand…years.
General Sherman is the largest living sequoia, and the largest single organism in the entire world. How crazy is it that this enormous tree started out as a tiny little 1/4″ seed?
The giant general is estimated to be around 2,500 years old. That means it sprouted around 500 bc, when Buddha lived. This tree was alive before the year zero, and it’s enormous. Try to imagine all of the storms, droughts, and all other adversities it has withstood. If only trees could talk.
The quaking aspen was named thus because even in the lightest breeze, its leaves flutter and quake due to their unique architecture: the petiole is distinctly flat rather than roundish, is attached to the leaf at right angles, and is also rather long relative to the size of the leaf. (Thanks to commenter Paxrail for this information.)
Although they seem to be individual trees, the actual organism is the underground root system, and each “tree” is actually a genetically identical stem it sprouts upward. Because the main organism is underground, the plant can survive forest fires and other harsh conditions. If all of its stems are burned, it will simply grow new ones. Just like we grow hair.
Pando, aka The Trembling Giant, is the largest known quaking aspen colony, and since it is regarded as one organism, it is also regarded as the heaviest known organism in the world at over 13,000,000 pounds. I don’t even know how many pounds that is. I’m 190.
Pando is estimated to be around 80,000 years old. I’ve been alive for 29. I did a google search to see what was going on 80,000 years ago and learned that’s around the time the human race migrated out of Africa. So around when our species was first starting to explore the rest of the world, Pando was born. The same Pando we can go visit today in Utah. Amazing.
The bristlecone pine grows in America’s west, just below the tree line at high altitudes. It’s the longest-living single organism on Earth (not including clonal colony organisms like the quaking aspen), up to around 5,000 years.
Due in part to the density and strength of its wood, it can survive harsh winter conditions, and parasites are ill-equipped to attack it. Its needles can live up to around 40 years, and when it dies, it weathers more like stone than wood.
Although it was announced this year that there’s actually an older living specimen (which has yet to be named), Methuselah was long regarded as the oldest single organism on Earth, at approximately 4,845 years old. That means it germinated around 2832 bc. That’s before the first Egyptian pyramid was built (although some conspiracy theorists say the pyramids were built long before the generally-agreed-upon dates). We always marvel at how amazing it is that the stone pyramids have withstood thousands of years of weathering, but hundreds of years before the earliest Egyptian pyramids were even built, Methuselah was growing in the mountains, just hangin’ out, enjoying the view. The very same Methuselah that prospers today. Amazing.
The rainbow eucalyptus is one of those rare natural phenomena we see and think, “What the f&@k?” It looks like a little brat went trigger-happy with the neon paint…but this is how they appear naturally.
The outer bark sheds at different times during the year, revealing the fresh, bright green inner bark. The inner bark gradually fades and the color shifts to dark green, blue/purple, pink/orange, then red/brown. Amazing.
I love the late spring. Trees are flowering, leaves emerging from their buds, quickly changing from light to dark green, filling up the forest. As quickly as spring arrives, so it vanishes. A young bride donning her beautiful white gown on her wedding day, removing it soon after for her wedding night pollination (hehe). Then she puts on her sweats and gains weight.
I wonder if we were to live for 5,000 years like Methuselah, if a day would seem like a blink. A winter would be like a quick, chilly gust of wind, years mere minutes. The sun’s trek across the sky would just be Earth hula hooping the sun. A rainstorm a quick snack.
Trees are so varied, so beautiful, with so many different tendencies and capabilities, and such different life stories. In this way, we’re not all that different from trees. Next time you see one, say hi, and appreciate all it has to offer, functionally and aesthetically.
And now I want you to make like a tree and get outta here 😉
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