Tree: A Life Story

Tree: A Life Story

Language: English

Pages: 200

ISBN: 155365126X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“Only God can make a tree,” wrote Joyce Kilmer in one of the most celebrated of poems. In Tree: A Life Story, authors David Suzuki and Wayne Grady extend that celebration in a “biography” of this extraordinary — and extraordinarily important — organism. A story that spans a millennium and includes a cast of millions but focuses on a single tree, a Douglas fir, Tree describes in poetic detail the organism’s modest origins that begin with a dramatic burst of millions of microscopic grains of pollen. The authors recount the amazing characteristics of the species, how they reproduce and how they receive from and offer nourishment to generations of other plants and animals. The tree’s pivotal role in making life possible for the creatures around it — including human beings — is lovingly explored. The richly detailed text and Robert Bateman’s original art pay tribute to this ubiquitous organism that is too often taken for granted.

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of a tree’s root system is spread laterally within a quarter of a meter (9 inches) of the surface. And if plants were geotropic, what impelled a plant’s stem to always grow upward, against gravity? The Utrecht School discovered that plant organs, notably the leaves and buds, produce hormones—auxins—that travel down the plant’s stem along with nutrients in the phloem and concentrate in areas requiring rapid cell growth. In young trees like ours, those places are behind the root cap and in the

gum, tree is one of the most flammable trees on Earth, producing large quantities of dry leaves and even a flammable gas that can shoot flames a distance of 100 meters (300 feet). Yet gum trees can withstand incredible temperatures, and some species even seem to need fire to remain alive. Even in relatively moist climates, fire resistance can be an asset. In Hawaii, for example, the ohia lehua tree (Metrosideros macropus) can actually be buried alive under a pile of burning cinders from a volcano

was like a great library, in which each species had its own place on the right shelf (genus) in the proper section (order) of the correct floor (class)—and not just every known species but, equally important, every new species that came into the library. The class and order of every plant could be determined in the field as easily as in the laboratory by anyone with a magnifying glass and the ability to count to twenty. (A plant with one stamen was in the class Monandria—“ one man”; if two, it

cells with tiny fingers, or haustoria. The alga produces sugars by photosynthesis, and the fungus takes some of those sugars—usually leaving behind enough to keep the algal cells alive—and also pumps water into the cell. The fungus shades the alga, protecting it from too much sunlight, and provides it with an enhanced photosynthesizing surface area. So far, all is symbiotic. In some cases, however, the fungus takes too great a portion of sugar, and the algal cells die—the lichen survives only

has been carbon-dated to seventy-two hundred years. Tropical trees that do not produce rings are more difficult to age, but there are dragon trees on the Canary Islands thought to be more than ten thousand years old, and some cycads in Australia—fellow gymnosperms— are considered to be fourteen thousand years old and counting, although some experts claim this to be an exaggeration. Given such longevity, it seems a shame that our tree is already, at a mere 550 years, showing signs of age. But it

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