Category Archives: Old-Growth
In which Ash meets… Ash!
In the second encounter of his birthday tour, Ash meet a particularly stout example of his namesake tree:
You can clearly see that our ash was once a much taller tree. Its ‘pollarding’ was severe, but the Ash today is flourishing and it has already established a fine new crown. I hope the wood-rotting fungi take it easy on the bole and roots so the tree can live out the FC’s optimistic prediction of another century or two, but there are dark clouds on the horizon in the form of Chalara fraxinea – the dreaded ash dieback that has run rampant across Europe.
How demand for wooden drinking cups diminished an ancient yew
Ash, at treeblog, gave himself a tree-tour of a birthday trip. In the first part of the journey, Birthday Tour (Part 1): Loch Rannoch – the Fortingall Yew – Bridge of Balgie, he meets a truly charismatic ancient tree in a post rich with historical illustration:
The Fortingall Yew is one of the oldest known trees in Europe. Allen Meredith (whose estimates according to The Tree Register Handbook “are as well-informed as anyone’s”) has suggested it could be as old as 5,000 years (along with the yews at Discoed in Powys and Llangernyw in Conwy), which is certainly something to think about. But what I find truly incredible is the gargantuan size it once reached. Forget the Yew as it stands today, so small, so utterly destroyed by ‘tourists’ in the 18th and 19th centuries, and try to wrap your mind around this: in the mid-1700s the Fortingall Yew had a girth of 56 and a half feet (17.2 m): a diameter of 5.5 metres (18 ft)! Consider that the thickest tree in Britain today is probably the Marton Oak with a dbh of 446 cm when measured around the three remaining sections of its trunk (although there are giant sequoias 7 m thick where their flared boles meet the ground). A five-and-a-half metre thick yew is phenomenal!
The Oak at the Gate of the Dead and the Duelling Oak
Ash at treeblog used his recent trip to the sad remains of the UK’s second biggest girthed sessile oak to visit two other large and ancient oaks in the same area:
Once I’d seen all there was to see of the uprooted Pontfadog Oak, I got back in the car and headed for home. But only a couple of miles down the road I pulled over to visit two more giant oaks: the Oak at the Gate of the Dead and the Duelling Oak. Both of these veterans grow within a stone’s throw of one another (and right close to the Wales-England border), beside the road linking Pontfadog with Chirk.
The Oak at the Gate of the Dead (Derwen Adwy’r Meirwon in Welsh) is famous, at least locally, for growing at the Pass of the Graves (Adwy’r Beddau). This is thought to be the place where in 1165, during the Battle of Crogen, the forces of Henry II of England were ambushed by the Welsh under Owain Gwynedd.
Naked treehugger Julianne Skai Arbor lends support to the protection of old growth on Vancouver Island
Tragically, people are not connecting our everyday modern consumptive lifestyle with the true cost we are paying for our wood and paper products: habitat destruction and fragmentation, soil erosion, hydrologic disruption, water siltation, wildfire hazards, and extermination of thousands of forest and riparian plant, animal and fungi species. Clearcutted forests are notorious for not being able to recover to their original structure and composition. This all equals the “uglification” and death of Life. We must change our modern value system and our forestry practices worldwide to focus on ecological system integrity.
Canada’s largest Spruce (Picea sitchensis), is The San Juan Sitka Spruce (and also the second largest Spruce in the world). It was with this tree that I did a photo shoot in the rain around the 38 ft (11.6 m) circumference, gazing up at the 205 ft (62.5 m) top. Although this wasn’t my first Sitka Spruce encounter, this was my first making love with a tree in the rain, and it was cold but magnificent embracing the wet moss!
See also the local newspaper article linked in her post, “The naked tree-hugger makes her way to Port Renfrew,” and the artist statement on TreeGirl’s website.
The fall of Britain’s second-biggest-girthed sessile oak
Thursday last week I heard from my father that a great oak had blown down overnight near Wrexham. From the internet I learned it was the Pontfadog Oak that had fallen – Britain’s second-biggest-girthed sessile oak (Quercus petraea). After doing a bit of research and discovering two other named oaks nearby (a story for another day), I decided to pay my respects and get some photographs of the fallen champion. So on Saturday morning I jumped in the car and drove the 100 miles to Wales – hey, if Yorkshire’s greatest lapsed treeblogger can’t do that, then who can?
I was in for a shock when I saw both the underside of the tree and the soil on which had it stood for centuries. Where were all the roots? For all intents and purposes, there was nothing at all to anchor it to the ground. The biggest roots there, which were really nothing, were completely rotten. There were a couple of small straggly roots that were live wood, but had that really managed to sustain the whole tree?
Managing old-growth forests for “Stradivarius trees”
John Laurenson (BBC News) writes about “Stradivarius trees: Searching for perfect musical wood” — such a great story, it prompted me to bring this blog out of retirement.
Pellegrini is a tree picker. He will find you the spruce in 10,000 that is just right. He will find you the “Stradivarius tree”.
“Lentement, lentement, lentement,” he says. “Slowly, slowly, slowly”.
That’s how violin trees should grow.
“Up in these mountains, they grow so slowly sometimes they stop growing altogether. They just gather strength. There are trees up here that are a thousand years old,” he says.
Pellegrini “gardens” the forest, as he puts it. But he gardens for people who will not be born for hundreds of years. So that there will be fine resonance spruce in the 24th Century.
Making a living from ancient olive trees
In more traditional American forestry circles, one can still hear “old growth” being used as a synonym for “over-mature,” the stage in the life of a tree or stand at which it begins to lose value as saw-timber. It’s worth remembering, however, that trees have many other economic values (to say nothing of cultural and ecological values) besides wood production — and sometimes these values actually increase with age. Examples include carbon sequestration, water storage and purification services, and the size of fruit or nut crops for certain species. Both sugar maples and rubber trees give more sap the older they get, so maple sugar and natural rubber production can take place within virtually unaltered old-growth landscapes. And many species of prized mushrooms do best in old-growth forests.
A less wild but still impressive example of the economic usefulness of ancient trees is exemplified by a new post at Spicelines blog, “Spain: From the Time of the Romans, an Ancient Olive Tree Bears Fruit.” The author visits a small-scale olive grower in Andalucia.
At least one of these ancient trees, which he calls “the millenary olive,” is estimated to be 1,800 years old, and may been planted in the time of the Romans. It’s an Hojiblanco and from a distance, it is an ungainly creature with branches, some broken or split, jutting at awkward angles. Only as we get closer do I see how massive the trunk is and how it spreads over the ground. It’s pockmarked with holes and deep crevasses, and on one side, where the wood has rotted away, there is a child-size hollow. “This is where I would hide myself when I was little,” Fermin says, laughing at the memory. “I would stay here for hours.”
This handsome relic still produces olives which lend their peppery, almond-like flavor to Vizcantar oils.
I’d heard that olive trees of great age were still producing oil all around the Mediterranean, so I was pleased to get this virtual tour of one such grove. Read the rest.
A visit to Białowieża forest
I was delighted to discover that one of my favorite travel bloggers, Maciej Cegłowski of Idle Words blog, has just written about the famed Białowieża forest on the border of Poland and Belarus — famed because it is the largest remnant of primeval forest in all of Europe.
Instead my first impression is of extreme clutter. It looks exactly like any other Polish forest, except no one has cleared all the dead branches and trees that lean in every direction or just lie rotting on the ground. Some trees have died in place and their bare trunks rise out of the undergrowth like ghostly masts. I fully expect to see the rusted skeleton of an Ursus tractor in between the brambles. The place looks like it could use some pruning and a judicious series of fires. I shoot Romek a wounded glance, but he has already disappeared into the trees.
As we walk deeper into the woods I begin to notice that the trees are very tall. In fact, I’ve never seen broadleaf trees this big before. If they were growing anywhere else there would be a chain around them, a little brass plaque, and a place to park the tour bus, but here they are just average. If you’ve ever been in a redwood forest you will know the feeling. The immensity isn’t immediately obvious because everything is on the same huge scale, but all you have to do is walk up to a trunk to realize that you are now a smurf. What looked like saplings from a distance are perfectly respectable beech or ash or linden that are just completely out of their class here.
Do read the rest.
How old are baobabs, and why don’t we see any small ones?
(I’m grateful to Colin for the submission, not only because he’s summarizing a research paper not available on the open web, but also because seeing baobabs is one of my life goals. As a matter of fact, I just mentioned my baobab-longing yesterday — if y’all will indulge me a link to my own blog — in a post called “Strange trees.”)
Re-envisioning a “poem forest”
Continuing with today’s theme of almost-fresh tree news from New York City, a friend sent me this link to a blog post from something called the BMW Guggenheim Lab about a poem trail through an old-growth forest in the New York Botanical Garden. I thought at first this might be hyperbole, but the Wikipedia bears it out: “Sightseers can easily spend a day admiring the serene cascade waterfall, wetlands and a 50-acre (20 ha) tract of original, old-growth New York forest, never logged, containing oaks, American beeches, cherry, birch, tulip and white ash trees — some more than two centuries old.”
Anyway, it seems that they recently finished refurbishing the trails through this tract, and asked artist Jon Cotner, the author of the piece, to “do something poetry-related on site” in conjuction with the Poetry Society of America. He wanted something that would actively engage visitors and lead them to pay closer attention to the forest around them.
So I “installed” 15 lines pulled from 2,500 years of poetry along a trail through the old-growth forest. Visitors spoke each line (printed on a handout) at specific locations (marked by small orange signs) to which the lines corresponded conceptually or physically. For example, near the start of the self-guided walk, people would recite Pythagoras’s maxim “The wind is blowing; adore the wind” to clear their heads. Or just as the Bronx River came into view, people would recite Gary Snyder’s verse “Under the trees/ under the clouds/ by the river” to grow closer to the landscape. At the final spot, above a waterfall, people said Ch’u Ch’uang’s “Waterfalls, with a sound/ Like rain” to sharpen the auditory sensation.
Walking Poem Forest took about 20 minutes. Several participants had long histories with the Garden. They felt surprised by how intimately they encountered a landscape that had seemed “familiar” or “known.” A bench near the waterfall became an informal classroom, where we discussed their experience. The overwhelming message was that the poetic lines encouraged everyone to slow down, to see and sense more clearly, to inhabit the present more deeply, and to fill with enchantment.
The post includes photos of each spot, evidently taken in November, paired with the corresponding quote. There’s also an audio compliation of visitors reading the lines. Pretty cool!