Trees are the largest organisms that have ever lived, with some giant specimens ten times heavier than a full-grown blue whale. Trees have dominated the land for more than 300 million years, far longer than the dinosaurs or mammals. They are far more diverse than animals, with many thousands of species living in a wide range of habitats.
Trees are also the longest living organisms on the planet. Many live hundreds of years and some thousands of years. For example, the bristlecone pine, growing on the cold, dry mountains from the Mexican border north to Colorado in the United States of America, can live more than 4500 years. The world’s longest lived trees include Victoria’s mountain ash and Tasmania’s ancient huon pine and messmate.
In the big tree stakes the New Zealand’s kauri has to be included. Mature kauris are huge trees. Some of them are 2,000 years, even 3000 years old. They are giants with tall cylindrical trucks topped by enormous spreading heads. The kauri’s exceptional height and girth, together with its long, minimally tapering trunk combine to yield the greatest trunk volume of any tree. Yet they cannot claim to be the tallest, broadest or longest living tree in the world.
According to Fred Hageneder* in his 2005 book The Living Wisdom of Trees, the entire spectrum of human existence is reflected in tree lore through the ages; from birth, death and rebirth to the age old struggle between good and evil, and the quest for beauty, truth and enlightenment. He writes:
Whatever our personal beliefs regarding nature, spirits, and the question of whether God exists inside creation or only outside it (or at all), one thing is certain: the ability to extend compassion to other life forms, to feel gratitude and give thanks for sharing in the miracle of life, to respect, if not to love, all fellow inhabitants of this planet, makes us better human beings and helps us to triumph over ignorance and greed. The living wisdom of trees shows us that life is worth so much.
Hageneder suggests that the living wisdom of trees tells us that we are all travelling together through the cycle of life.
Try it if you haven’t already there is something about standing next to a really big tree. Knowing that it is hundreds of years old – that it has been storing sugar and carbon in its trunk and pumping out oxygen for centuries – it somehow puts you and human life into perspective. Kind of makes you feel a bit puny and insignificant.
It is sad to think that it is humanity that has been responsible for willfully destroying so many of these gentle, gracious defenseless giants that do nothing more than keep us alive.
* Fred Hageneder is a recognised authority on botany and trees. He has written several tree books and has a tree-related website: www.themeaningoftrees.com