As far as a forest is concerned trees are the backbone, they are the definition of the word “forest”. They are the physical workhorse, doing most of the heavy lifting. Trees are a part of our daily lives, we could not exist without them. If you ever really wanted to conquer a people, all you would have to do is eliminate all of their trees.
There is a direct correlation between the size of a tree and the size of the root system, the roots of a tree will grow large enough to support the tree with a full load of leaves on it. If you were to remove all of the leaves from a tree, the roots would temporarily stop absorbing water. Leguminous trees on the other hand, will proportionately abort roots when the top of the tree is cut.
One of the few times the earth is disturbed in a natural forest is when a tree is uprooted, this is one of natures methods of tillage. Seeds that would not have had a chance to germinate in solid ground will now have a chance to grow. Some seeds have developed the ability to lay dormant until this opening occurs, these trees are pioneer trees. Pioneer trees are nothing more than quick carbon pathways, they grow fast, die fast and decompose fast, while the roots decompose and create compost corridors in the soil.
As the wind blows across land, it picks up particles. These particles are maintained until the speed of the wind slows down, often occurring at the edge of a forest. It is partly because of this, that trees on the edge of a forest grow larger. Typically 40% of this wind continues over the forest picking up a new payload, and 60% goes into the forest and deposits its payload. The fog rising from the forest that’s commonly seen when driving down the highway is a result of this cool wind forcing warm air out of the forest… Decomposition is what causes this heat.
Often at the edge of an old growth forest you will find a small mound, this is caused by a buildup of material deposited by the wind. The material is often composed of nutrient rich organic particles, depending on your region this can also be a toxic pile of pollution. When these nutrients are coupled with the high energy biologically diverse micro climate created at the forests edge, plants and trees will thrive.
A tree is simply a large column of water, and a forest could be considered a lake. A tree has the ability to catch 98% of the water that falls on it, that water is absorbed by the roots and transpired from the leaves creating rain clouds. Inland rainfall will often contain no traces of the ocean, only water from the trees. An interesting little side note is that wind blowing over the top of trees has a tendency to pick up a positive charge, this coupled with already forming rain clouds creates a recipe for some pretty nasty thunderstorms.
In a forest most of the magic happens on the edge, without human intervention the edge of the forest would constantly progress. In the Summer months although the sun cannot penetrate the canopy of a forest, it can penetrate the edges causing pioneer species to rampantly grow. These pioneer species quickly grow to a climax and die, creating a quick means of building up biomass. As the pioneer species reach maturity and begin to die, the tall hardwood trees break the canopy and take over.
Pioneer trees can also be thought of as the support structure of a forest, the other end of the spectrum is production trees. In the early years a forest is 90% support species and 10% production species, as the forest matures this ratio flips to 10% support and 90% production. Think of the small trees growing on the edge of a forest compared to the giant trees of an old-growth forest. In forest creation you would want 8 or 9 support species trees to every production tree.
Trees that do get an opportunity to grow in an old forest grow very fast, light is at a premium and the tree has to stretch for the light. There is a common practice when planting a new forest that involves planting the trees closer than you would normally plant them, this creates a sense of competition and in turn the trees grow faster. In my experience it is better to plant to many trees and have to cut a few down than it is to figure out five years in that you have a bare spot that needs filled.
Trees are just one of the ways that the heavens interact with the earth, but they are one of the most precious. I always get a special feeling when planting a tree, something about planting something for the future that just gets me all… happy inside!..
The next “Nature/permaculture” post will be “Trees And Their Interactions With Us”, it will be a little more on the spiritual side… I am really looking forward to working on it, it will probably take me a week.
never be ashamed to hug a tree – chriscondello
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