TREE TALK: Sequoias are good for the planet
by By Joanna Angle
Giant Sequoia Sequoiadendron giganteum, Sequoia National Park, California
While sitting in the office of our District Conservationist Bruce Andrews, my attention was suddenly captured by an amazing picture taped to a file cabinet.
This mini-poster was a “National Geographic” photograph of a giant sequoia laden with snow and dotted with research scientists suspended from or standing on its massive limbs. I was overcome with covetousness and unashamedly asked Bruce to leave the poster to me in his will.
To my amazement, a week later one of my sister Brenda’s frequent “care packages” arrived and tucked between newspaper clippings of recipes and crossword puzzles was the December 2012 issue of “National Geographic” with the mini-poster insert intact. I was overjoyed.
The subject of the stunning portrait stands over 240 feet tall and is estimated to be 3,200 years old. It was named The President after Warren G. Harding and is now regarded as the second largest tree on earth, just behind another giant sequoia called General Sherman. Sequoias are a species of redwood.
The accompanying story explained that the scientists were collecting data for a long-term study called the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative which seeks to “…assess the potential of California’s iconic trees to absorb planet-warming carbon dioxide.” Taking precautions to protect the great tree’s cambium layer, the team spent over a month measuring its trunk at different heights. They also “… measured limbs, branches, and burls; they counted cones; they took core samples using a sterilized borer. Then they fed the numbers through mathematical models informed by additional data from other giant sequoias.”
Their findings challenge the long-held belief that trees grow more slowly as they age. To the contrary, this study proves that the growth rate of very old trees, like the sequoias, actually becomes faster. This means “…the amount of carbon dioxide they absorb during photosynthesis continues to increase over their lifetimes.” That is surely wonderful news for the planet!
The research team leader, Stephen Sillett, believes that the sequoias’ ability to draw carbon from the warming atmosphere at accelerated rates over many centuries makes them even more deserving of vigilant protection and on-going cultivation. He paid special tribute to The President, saying, “I consider it to be the greatest tree in all of the mountains of the world.”
To see photographer Michael Nichols’ extraordinary image of The President (which took two weeks to capture), go to this address: ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/12/sequoias/gatefold-image.
— Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year. Her Cedarleaf Farm in Chester County is a Certified Stewardship Forest and part of the American Tree Farm System.
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