From my window I see a very tall tree with contorted branches. It looks the same throughout the year so there is really nothing to “observe” about it except for the visiting crows and sparrows who perch on it on their way somewhere else. I have found out that it is a twisted oak tree. People have told me that it spoils my view of the San Francisco Bay but I think it is part of that view.
A tree is the oldest living organism. California has the world’s oldest living tree. Here’s a picture of Methusela, a Birstlecone Pine which is 4851 years old.
Until 2013, it was the oldest, but now another Bristlecone has been found in the same area. That one is now 5068. It probably doesn’t worry much about birthdays.
Also in California, the Wawona tunnel tree was a giant Sequoia that stood in Mariposa Grove of the Yosemite national Park in California until 1969. A tunnel was cut into it as a tourist attraction. It was 2,300 years old. Now it is a habitat for insects and small animals. General Sherman, the biggest tree in the world is in the same area.
Trees take care of each other, even across species. Forest ecologist Suzanne Sinard explains the concept of a “mother tree” who acts as a hub and takes on the care and protection of the tree community and looks out for younger trees. For instance, birch trees receive extra care from Douglas firs when they lose their leaves.
In The Hidden Life of a Tree, Peter Wohlleben describes how trees fight for nutrients, water and sunlight. The winners live long enough to reproduce, but they also form friendships, and larger trees supply younger ones with nutrients like sugar. Using a complex network of chemical signals trees communicate by emitting sounds and distress signals inaudible to humans. They talk to each other through their roots and form alliances with other trees and with some animals as well.
Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Overstory describes people who come together to fight the destruction of trees. This is a truly marvelous read.
All trees use the “fungal web” as an underground connection, a reciprocal exchange to provide nutrients and improve health and resilience in a symbiotic relationship with fungi. Even though we, humans, cannot really “talk” to trees we can see to their welfare and provide them with all the care they need.