Did you know that it is currently National Tree Week here in the UK? I didn’t, until just recently!
Started in 1975 by The Tree Council following an outbreak of Dutch Elm disease which led to nationwide replanting, National Tree Week strives to raise awareness among people about the benefits and needs of trees, as well as encourages communities to positively impact their local landscape by planting and protecting trees.
As a related aside, if you live in the UK and are interested in supporting woodland preservation and the restoration of ancient woodland then I’d urge you to check out The Woodland Trust. I’ve been a member for a few years now, and I think they do great work around the country.
Taking a leaf from National Tree Week’s book, here now are a few facts worth knowing about trees and forests.
1 – Discovered in 2006, a redwood since dubbed ‘Hyperion’ is the tallest tree currently known. Measuring in at a whopping 379ft/115m tall, the tree’s exact location within California’s Redwood National and State Parks has been kept a secret so as to prevent vandalism.
2 – Despite often being in the news on account of wildfires, earthquakes, and droughts, California seems to be a great place to live if you’re a tree – not only does the tallest currently known tree dwell there, but the oldest currently known tree grows there too. According to the OLDLIST, a database of ancient trees, a Great Basin bristlecone pine called ‘Methuselah’ living in California’s White Mountain Range is currently 4,845 years old. Another as-of-yet unnamed tree of the same variety may be older yet at 5,062 years of age, but researchers need to confirm these findings.
3 – A noteworthy amount of medicines are derived in part from plants and trees found in tropical forests, among these medicines that help prevent or treat inflammation, arthritis, diabetes, glaucoma, malaria, and various skin diseases. In fact, it’s been estimated that 25% of the medicines we use today originate from species that grow in rainforest.
4 – Speaking of woodlands and good health, you may have heard of the Japanese concept of shinrin yoku – ‘forest bathing’ – in the past few years as it has become more popular and more widespread around other parts of the world. The Japanese government coined the term in 1982, but the idea draws from much older Buddhist and Shinto practices. Forest bathers are encouraged to let nature into their bodies via all of their senses so as to promote better mental and physical health. It’s become such a popular idea in Japan that the country’s Forestry Agency has designated 48 official eco-therapy trails for the public to use. Japan is also the home to the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine.¹
5 – Trees don’t have a spoken or written language like humans, but they can communicate with each other in different ways. When an umbrella thorn acacia is being chomped on by a giraffe, for instance, scientists have found that it will give off a warning scent composed of ethylene which signals to other nearby trees that they’re under attack. The forewarned trees then start pumping various defensive compounds into their own leaves which make them taste foul to the grazers, encouraging the giraffes to move on elsewhere. Oaks have a similar way of ‘speaking’ to each other, but they pass chemical messages instead via the fungal networks intertwined with their roots. Talk about a ‘wood wide web’…²
6 – The Korowai people of Papua live in tree houses built up around Banyan or Wanbom trees, sometimes up to 35m/114ft above the ground! Living at such great heights offers protection from mosquito swarms and bothersome neighbors.
7 – On the topic of epic tree houses… Since 1993, Minister Horace Burgess of Crossville, Tennessee, USA has been building what may be the largest tree house in the world. Started by Burgess following a supposed vision from god in which he was told ‘If you build a tree house, I’ll see that you never run out of material,’ the house/church now stands at about 100ft tall and is supported by an 80ft oak tree. It contains 80 rooms and stretches over five stories. It used to be open to all visitors, however, the Tennessee Fire Marshall has closed it indefinitely due to building code issues.
8 – Just how many trees are there in the world? Back in 2015, researchers crunched a whole lot of numbers after looking at satellite images and rounding up lots of ground-sourced tree counts to find out. The answer? 3 trillion. TRILLION. That seems like an awful lot, but it also seems that the world loses around 15 billion trees a year due to human impact.
¹ Williams, Florence. The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative. W.W. Norton and Company, 2017.
² Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Lives of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World. William Collins, 2017.