Archive for the ‘Interesting Facts’ Category

Dragon’s Blood Tree

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

I was watching BBC’s new documentary “Life” last night and the particular episode was all about plants. BBC featured some incredible plants, but the one that really caught my attention (being the tree guy that I am) was the Dracaena Cinnabari, or, the Dragon’s Blood Tree. This odd looking tree grows in the mountaintops of the Socotra Archipelago, which is a group of four remote islands located in the Indian Ocean south of the Arabian Peninsula. It is named as such because of its unique red sap. This red sap forms a resin that was a prized commodity in ancient times. Romans and other old civilizations used it as medicine and as a red dye. Dragon’s Blood resin has enjoyed continued popularity throughout history for various purposes, and even today it is still used as a varnish.A Dragon Blood Tree on the island of Socotra

You will notice that the Dragon’s Blood Tree has a truly bizarre shape, reminiscent of a giant mushroom or an upturned umbrella. This odd shape is not an accident. It is crucial to the tree’s survival. Socotra is a hot, desert island with an especially tough dry season and very little rainfall. In order to survive here, plants must develop clever methods for obtaining water. As the occasional morning mist sweeps across the mountains, water droplets accumulate on the Dragon Blood Tree’s long waxy leaves. The tree’s shape allows it to transport the water from the leaves down the branches and trunk to the roots. It is important that the droplets run down the tree because the sun will evaporate any that fall on the hot ground below. But if water does happen to fall, the tree provides enough shadow with its dense canopy that some of it is able to seep into the soil before being evaporated. This tree’s ability to survive in such a harsh setting is amazing, don’t you think?

So there you have it! The Dragon Blood Tree is one of many fascinating trees on Planet Earth. Stay tuned, as I’m sure we’ll mention many other incredible trees here on the blog… Monkey Puzzle Tree anyone?

The World’s Oldest Trees

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Trees can grow to astoundingly old ages. As a matter of fact, trees (along with certain other plants such as Namibia’s famous Welwitschia) make up some of the oldest known living organisms on the planet. Certain types of trees have attained incredible longevity through a number of unique capabilities, such as the ability to replace lost or damaged organs (above and below ground), a sectored vascular system that allows portions of the tree to survive whether or not the rest of the tree is alive, the formation of clone shoots whereby an existing shoot can produce a genetically identical offshoot, synthesis of defensive compounds to ward off invaders, a hormonal control system, and much more. Trees are indeed fascinating organisms!

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the world’s oldest trees:

1. Methuselah: With a death-defying 4,842 years under its belt, this Great Basin bristlecone pine deserves its name. This is considered to be the oldest non-clonal organism (i.e., individual plant) on the planet. Stop and think about that for just a moment. This tree was a sapling at the dawn of the Egyptian civilization, hundreds of years old during the building of Stonehenge, and by the time Chinese civilization was just beginning on the banks of the Yellow River, Methuselah was already over 500 hundred years old. This is truly a staggering thought.

Methuselah is located 10,000 feet above sea level in Inyo National Forest in California. But in an effort to protect the tree from vandalism, its exact location remains a closely-held secret protected by the U.S. Forest Service. The below picture is not an actual picture of Methuselah, but it likely looks very similar.

Methuselah Great Basin bristlecone pine

2. Pando: Also known as the Trembling Giant, Pando is a clonal colony of a single male Quaking Aspen located in Utah. Each genetically-identical individual tree (or “stem”) is connected by a single root system. Spreading across more than 100 acres, Pando is believed to be over 80,000 years old and collectively weighs over 6,600 tons, making it the heaviest organism on the planet, as well as one of the oldest.

Pando - a grove of Quaking Aspens also known as the Trembling Giant

3. Sarv-e Abarqu: The “Cypress of Abarqu” is an ancient cypress tree located in Abarkooh, Iran. Also known as the Zoroastrian Sarv, this tree took root between 4,000 and 4,500 years ago, making it the oldest living organism in Asia.

Sarv-e Abarqu is also known as the Cypress of Abarqu and Zoroastrian Sarv

4. Llangernyw Yew: A rural, Welsh-speaking village in north Wales is the site of Llangernyw Yew, the world’s third oldest, non-clonal tree. Located in the graveyard of St. Digain’s parish church, among primitive stone crosses made during the Dark Ages, this mighty yew tree has stood here for nearly 4,000 years.

Llangernyw Yew in rural north Wales

5. Jurupa Oak: If you were to walk up a certain unassuming hill in southern California, you would probably walk right past a stand of small, gnarled oak trees growing from within a pile of boulders. Yet, you would have just passed one of the oldest organisms in the world: a grove of clonal Palmer’s oaks believed to be over 13,000 years old. The shoots only measures a few feet tall and they grow outward from the site of the original shoot at a rate of approximately one-twentieth of an inch per year. They rely on fire to burn down the stems and trigger new growth. Unfortunately for the Jurupa Oak, suburban California is encroaching on all sides.

Jurupa Oak in southern California

6. Old Tjikko: Who would think such a scraggy tree could be so old? Do not let looks deceive you. This 16-foot tall Norway Spruce, situated in the scrubby Fulufjället Mountains of Sweden, is an incredible 9,550 years old! This is the world’s oldest single-stemmed clonal tree. The actual tree trunk itself is only a few hundred years old – it is the root system that has stayed alive for nearly 10,000 years.

Old Tjikko

7. Alerce Tree: In 1993 scientists discovered this 150-foot tall Patagonian Cypress in the Andes Mountains of Chile. Unlike the Llangernyw Yew and the Sarv-e Abarqu, Alerce has been given an exact age of 3,637 years old using tree-ring width chronology. This makes it the second oldest tree to have its exact age calculated.

Alerce tree in Andes Mountains of Chile

8. The Senator: This is a Bald Cypress located in Big Tree Park in Florida. It is estimated to be nearly 3,500 years old and was once used as a landmark by Seminole Indians and other local tribes. It also holds the title of biggest tree by volume east of the Mississippi.

The Senator is a Bald Cypress located in Florida

These are just a small handful of the world’s oldest trees. There are many other ancient and mighty trees throughout the world. For example, the Jardine Juniper in Utah, General Sherman (the Giant Sequoia) in California, Jomon Sugi in Japan, Kongeegen in Denmark, the Chestnut Tree of One Hundred Horses in Sicily, the Olive Tree of Vouves in Greece, and many, many more. These trees have all stood the test of time and occupied our planet for the better part of known history.

Thanks goes out to Growth Rings Blog and  Wired.com Science for helping inspire today’s post.

Happy Arbor Day!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Now that St. Paddy’s Day is over, what better day to look forward to than Arbor Day? Lucky for us, we do not have to wait very long! This Friday is North Carolina’s official Arbor Day, a day when the N.C. Division of Forest Resources encourages each of us to plant a tree.

NC 2010 Arbor Day Poster contest winner by Adrian Dailey

So where exactly did Arbor Day originate? The idea of Arbor Day originally came from Nebraska, a state that used to be a treeless plain. J. Sterling Morton, a pioneer from Detroit, moved to the Nebraska Territory with his wife in 1854. Like other pioneers from the east, Morton and his wife soon began to miss having trees. More importantly, they needed trees to help hold the soil together, to supply building materials, and to provide shade during the hot summer months. After working as a journalist and editor for Nebraska’s first newspaper, all the while spreading the message about the need for trees, Morton became the Secretary of the Nebraska Territory. In this position of influence Morton was able to convince the State Board of Agriculture to pass a tree-planting holiday called “Arbor Day.” Nebraska’s first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872 and it is estimated that over one million trees were planted that day. Since then, the idea of Arbor Day has spread to states, provinces, and countries all across the world. For North Carolina, Arbor Day was first ratified as part of a bill passed by the state legislature in 1967 and is celebrated each year on the first Friday following March 15.

You might be wondering, why all the fuss about Arbor Day? Well, trees are an essential part of our planet and provide a number of vital services. Trees help clean air, purify water, reduce energy costs by providing shade, diminish carbon dioxide, filter rainfall, reduce soil erosion, and decrease the amount of pollutants that enter our waterways. Where would we be without these miracles? So go ahead, celebrate Arbor day and do our planet some good by planting your very own tree!

To learn more, visit N.C. Division of Forest Resources Arbor Day web page.

PS: For all you Raleigh residents, be sure to check out our last post – the city will give you trees to plant for free! For everybody else, you can buy seeds from N. C. Division of Forest Resources.