Trees come in all shapes and sizes. One extreme is the towering Redwoods and Giant Sequoias. Although they grow in a similar region of the United States, they are two separate species. The Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum, are considered the largest trees on earth. They occur only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California and are limited to an area less than 36,000 acres. They average 164 to 279 feet in height and can have diameters up to 20 to 26 feet. Then oldest known tree is 3,200 to 3,600 years old.
A related, but different species and genus, is the Redwood, Sequoia sempivirens. This species is considered as the tallest tree on earth, reaching heights of 379 feet and up to 29 feet in diameter. They are found along the Pacific Coast from south of San Francisco to the California/Oregon border. The oldest known tree is approximately 2,200 years old.
Water reaches the great heights of both species through negative pressure. They supplement water from the soil with fog, taken up through air roots at heights where water cannot be pulled.
The Baobab, Adansonia digitata, is known as the tree of life. It is native to Madagascar, Africa and Australia and is one of the most long-lived vascular plants on earth. Its flowers bloom for a maximum of 15 hours. The tree can reach heights of 100 feet with small crowns and have trunks up to 30 to 50 feet in diameter. The trunks can store up to 32,000 gallons of water to endure drought conditions. Some individuals have been documented to be over 2,000 years old. The Baobab is an ancient tree, dating back over 200 million years. The fruit is the only one in the world that dries naturally on the tree for six months. This fruit is nutrient-rich and ripens during the dry season when everything else is arid and parched — hence the moniker, “tree of life.”
The Kapok tree, Ceiba pentandra, is native to rainforests of Mexico, Central and South America, and West and Central Africa. It can reach heights of 240 feet and can grow as much as 13 feet in one year. The trunks have long, conical spines. The silky fibers of the fruits are used for bedding and life preservers. A vegetable oil can be extracted from the seeds and extracts from the bark have been used as diuretics, aphrodisiacs, and to cure headaches and Type II diabetes. The tree is characterized by long buttress roots which can extend outward to 65 feet from the trunk as well as 40 to 50 feet up the trunk.
On the opposite extreme is the world’s smallest tree, the Dwarf Willow, Salix herbacea. This tiny tree grows to a mere 1 to 6 centimeters in the harsh environment of the North Atlantic coast. However, to take advantage of the short growing season, it has leaves which are .3 to 2 centimenters in length, or about one-third the size of the tiny tree itself. The tree produces a single woody stem, leading some people to classify it as a tree. Males produce yellow fruit and females a red fruit. It can survive from sea level up to approximately one mile elevation.
There are also several smallish trees, but not to the extreme of the Dwarf Willow above. One of these trees which can be grown in our area is the Weeping Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis. Unlike the common Redbud, which reaches heights of 25 to 30 feet, the weeping varieties are no more than 4 to 10 feet and about the same width. There are several varieties, including Ruby Falls, which has purple flowers; Whitewater, whose leaves emerge white and then become variegated; and Pink Heartbreaker, which produces lavender-pink flowers. This small tree can be planted in tight spaces near the house or in a patio.
One other small tree which can be planted in our area is a variety of the magnolia known as the Royal Stat magnolia, Magnolia stellata. Unlike the larger southern magnolia, this tree loses its leaves in the winter and bursts into bloom with white double flowers in the spring prior to leaf-out. It is a multi-trunked tree, reaching heights of only 10 to 20 feet with a spread of 15 to 20 feet. This tree is used as a specimen or accent tree in the landscape.
Like people, trees come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Regardless of their size, they all provide us with a variety of benefits — beauty, shade, cooling, home for birds and wildlife, producing oxygen, and so much more.
Eric H. Hoyer is a certified arborist, a certified forester, a registered consulting arborist and a qualified tree risk assessor with Natural Resource Planning Services Inc. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.