Thursday, August 19, 2010

Friday photo

Sequoia trees, Giant Forest. Sequoia National Park, California. June 2005.

I spoke of the great age of the giant sequoia trees in an earlier post about the bristlecone pines, which are older yet. The oldest known sequoia is a mere 3500 years old, which puts its sprouting somewhere after the pyramids but before the Israelite monarchy. Okay, that's pretty old, even if it isn't record-setting.

Now, here's an insight into the "efficiency" of nature. An average sequoia disperses over a quarter million seeds every year. A successful sequoia - let's say it's 2000 years old - has dropped something like a half billion seeds in its lifetime and might just have another millennium to live. In order to sustain itself, each adult tree needs to reproduce itself once. A billion seeds, just to get two or three more adult trees, and yet there weren't very many of them even before the loggers arrived. It doesn't help that sequoia seeds don't do well in the shade and their parent provides lots - I mean lots - of shade.

In the meantime, the tree needs to survive everything the world has to throw at it - and in 2000 years, that can be a lot. Fire is the most common and in the photo above you can see an enormous fire scar on the tree in the foreground. All the big trees have these and some have been severely hollowed out and are barely alive, with only a thin strip of bark still connecting crown and root. Nature isn't efficient, but it is tenacious.

I became familiar with the sequoias during the two months I worked in Sequoia National Park in the autumn of 1988 (having been chased out of Yellowstone by some forest fires that proved inconvenient to tourists). I hated living and working there, but loved the park nonetheless. I didn't mange to return until 2005, after the lodge and gift shop I worked in had long been removed to protect the Giant Forest area from overtrampling. So instead of browsing the gift shop, I tramp(l)ed through the Giant Forest trails just like I used to and had a wonderful time. Seventeen years seemed like a long time - almost 0.5% of the lifetime of some of these trees. If they could remember me, I doubt they'd even have noticed I was gone.

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