Monday, November 8, 2010

Heady Trees

I doubt you took the time to watch the video in its entirety so I will highlight the particularly mind-blowing facts (from stimulating to brain-melting) that Richard Preston shared during his TED presentation. First, Redwood trees are gigantic. There trunks can have a diameter as much as 30 feet and tower up to 380 feet into the air. Like Preston said "these are trees that would stand out in midtown Manhattan."
Moving up the spectrum to about the level of "thought-provoking," the trees are old as dirt. Almost literally. The oldest redwood is estimated to be between 3,000 to 5,000 years old. Clearly, they grow extremely slow yet they are often cut down in a matter of minutes. Before the land they grow in became protected, 96% of the old growth trees were cut down. To me that's unacceptable not only because it destroys a perfectly good tree but it also puts many different organisms at risk and in some cases, extinction.
Now we are at about mind-blowing level. If you're into colors, we are firmly in the orange. There have been a few specific species that are thought to only exist in one particular tree, such as the ant that Preston describes at the end. Also, the upper regions of the trees are ecosystems in and of themselves, many of which take hundreds of years to develop. Furthermore, Preston mentions a copepod that was found in the tree. The relatives of those things are whale food and how it got up in the tree is beyond me and everyone else at this point.
Finally, listening to Preston talk about the structure of these trees has thoroughly melted my brain. First off, they're fractals. Fractals alone are able to do considerable brain melting but if you're told that mini redwoods grow on bigger redwoods, its game over. For those of you who don't know a fractal is basically a shape that can be reduced into smaller shapes that are smaller versions of the original. The way this applies to redwoods is that as they grow they sprout branches and from those branches grow miniature redwoods and those mini redwoods grow branches from which other mini mini redwoods grow and so on and so forth. Most of nature works in that way but it's even crazier to think that there are trees inside trees that are bigger than most trees (I'm starting to sound like Xibit now so I'll stop.)
To me, the most interesting thing about the tree's structure is the fact that "flying buttresses" grow from the trees on the branch to the main trunk in for support. The flying buttress is something that had been developed to hold up the vaulted ceilings in Europe's most extravagant cathedrals and here we are thinking that humans are really cool because they thought of that but once again, Mother Nature proves us wrong. It was her idea, we copied it. Nuts to you, Bramante.

So now that you know about the redwood its time to put your jacket on, get outside and climb (or at the very least hug) a tree. If you choose to climb a tree don't pick a flimsy tree because you'll hurt the tree and yourself (when you fall out). I prefer to climb pine trees because they smell nice and their branch structure makes them easier to climb than other trees. An old pine tree has very thick branches that are usually reasonably low to the ground (a climbing buddy is always useful to help us shorter people into higher trees. You get high with a little help from your friends, right?). Another upside to pine trees is that the branches are very close together as well as thick so if you fall chances are you'll just end up with a branch in between your legs. It's not a bad deal considering the alternative.
If you choose to venture into another type of tree make sure that you can get up beyond the first few layers of branches. It's always frustrating when I get into a tree and realize the first move is the only possible move to make. Although some of these trees provide comfortable place to hang out in the summer. The leaves provide privacy between you and pedestrians plus the no one can get you if you're high in a tree.

Happy Climbing!

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