All by myself
New Zealand is home to the world’s loneliest tree. The Sitka spruce, a northern hemisphere native, stands in stunted isolation in a wind-battered cove on subantarctic Campbell Island, more than 273km from the nearest trees, on the Auckland Islands. It was planted about 1900 by then-governor Lord Ranfurly.
Wide, squat, with a frantic Seussian crown, the baobab tree is part and portly parcel of the sub-Saharan Africa landscape. The trunks are often hollow and have been used as homes, shops, meeting places and, in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, a cocktail bar. But in the past dozen years, four of the 13 largest, and probably oldest, trees have died and more are ailing – the result, researchers suggest, of climate change-fuelled drought.
Japan’s cherry blossom season, known as hanami, is short, spectacular and weirdly in sync. The flowers of Somei-yoshino, considered the most beautiful of cherry blossoms, all bloom at the same time. Why? Flowering cherries are infertile – they do not fruit. The use of cloning has resulted in Somei-yoshino trees being genetically identical, allowing their blossoms to bloom and fall at once.
Dip and stretch
A group of 400 pine trees planted outside Nowe Czarnowo, Poland, in about 1930, is considered one of the world’s most mysterious forests. Known as the Crooked Forest, the trees are bent at 90° just above their base. From the point after the bend, the trunks rise upwards into the shape of the letter “c”. One theory is that the pines were damaged by passing tanks during World War II, which bent the young trees groundwards.
Biggest and tallest
With an estimated volume of nearly 1500cu m, General Sherman, in Sequoia National Park, California, is the largest single-stem tree in the world. Standing 83m, it dwarfs New Zealand’s best-known forest giant, Tane Mahuta (51.5m). But the honour of the world’s tallest tree belongs to Hyperion, a Californian coast redwood, at 115.85m.
Old and stunted
A pair of short, gnarly Great Basin bristlecone pines in California’s White Mountains are considered the oldest trees in the world. At about 5000 years, they are as old as Troy, bronze tools and wheeled vehicles.
This article was first published in the January 11, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.