All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
("Winter Trees" by William Carlos Williams)
I thought I’d share a little tidbit of knowledge with you all today, as it’s the first decent snowfall of the season here in Fredonia, NY. You nature lovers probably know about this already, but for the rest of you, did you know that trees actually hibernate during the winter? Even the evergreens common to the northeast do this, though it’s not as obvious as in their deciduous cousins which give us the beautiful fall foliage we admire.
All trees experience dormancy, much like the period of inactivity we attribute to bears when they pack on extra pounds, stow away food and take epic naps.
When trees do this, it is normally activated by what is called “predictive dormancy.” When temperatures begin to lower during autumn and the sun cycle shortens and becomes less intense, trees anticipate the changing weather and cease new growth. Photosynthesis slows down to a crawl (causing the vibrant leaf colors we see) and their bark hardens.
When I first learned about this, it made me think differently about plant life, much in the same way as when I learned that sunflowers follow the sun across the sky during the day. It made me ponder their silent wisdom.
Most of us give little thought to the quiet brilliance of trees. But consider some of these facts:
1.) Trees are the oldest living things on earth.
There’s a tree segment in the Boston Science Museum which has marks on its rings showing historical events that occurred during its lifetime (including one near its center denoting the birth of Christ). In Utah there’s a tree colony whose interconnected root system is considered to be in excess of 80,000 years old!
2.) Trees can attack (and communicate)!
“When attacked by insects, trees can flood their leaves with chemicals called phenolics. These noxious compounds are distasteful to tree pests and can even impede their growth. What’s amazing is that once a tree is attacked, it will ‘signal’ to other nearby trees to also start their self-defense, before they are attacked!” Source
3.) They can grow to be really, really, ridiculously big!
Think a blue whale is the biggest organism on earth? Think again. A blue whale typically weighs about 300,000 pounds. There’s a giant sequoia donned “General Sherman” which weighs nine times that at 2.7 million pounds.
4.) Trees cooperate.
Scientists have found that larger trees will actually help their little ones and share nutrients with them to help facilitate growth.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s Reflection on trees and the little-known ways they are amazing. Have something you’re interested in that you would like us to research or write about? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Justin Barnard is a graduate student at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He is studying for a Master of Arts in English as well as a Certificate of Advanced Study in Professional Writing. Justin has been published in The Times Union, The Daily Gazette, The Journal of Critical Thinking, and recently presented research at the What is Life? Conference held at the University of Oregon at Portland. Find him on Twitter @JustinBWrites.