We have an oak tree in our front yard that my husband dug out of a fenceline when we moved into this house. When it was first planted, my boys–then 5 and 10–loved to jump over it.
Now that little sapling is taller than the house. Straight, true, steady, it’s barely lost any ground while the elms on the property have been ravaged by ice storms. The thick foliage houses birds of all sorts and provides abundant shade. My own little saplings have grown into straight and true young men as well. The tree and the boys will be forever linked in my mind.
But my robust oak became a tiny pipsqueak again when I read an article in National Geographic this weekend about the President (and General Sherman as a side note). Not the people, but the trees: giant sequoia trees. The President is the second largest tree on Earth. General Sherman ranks number one.
The National Geographic article “Forest Giant” (by David Quammen; photos, Michael Nichols, December 2012 issue, page 34) revealed some of the statistics gathered by a team of scientists who were granted permission to climb all over the big trees and measure them in detail. The dimensions and figures are staggering. Here are just a few interesting facts:
- They are gigantic because they are old. Very, very old. The President is thought to be 3,200 years old.
- They are too strong to be knocked over by wind.
- The tannic acid and other chemical soup that infuses bark and heartwood protect the trees from fungal rot.
- Loggers because disinterested in the old giants because the brittle wood shattered when the tree hit the ground. Logs 20 feet thick were no fun to deal with. Tourism made the trees more valuable alive than dead. (Thank goodness!)
- The President lays down more new wood each year than a robust youngster. The trunk grows wider and the limbs and branches get thicker. This finding contradicted the long-held premise that wood production decreases as a tree ages.
- Lightning hurts but does not kill the massive giants.
- The sequoias are snow trees. They prefer a wintery habitat: months of frigid temperatures, with snow weighing on their limbs and piling up around the trunks.
- The sequoias are fire trees as well. The thick bark resists the flames of lighning fires. Fire benefits the trees because it opens cones (The President has approximately 82,000 cones the size of a chicken’s egg, each one containing approximately 200 seeds) and clears the understory so that saplings get the light they need to grow.
- The scientists who measured every part of The President estimate it has nearly two billion leaves.
That, my friends, was my interesting point of learning for my weekend. How was your weekend? What did you learn?