Overstory #226 - Are Trees Long Lived?
The ancient and veteran trees we enjoy today developed in wild unmanaged forests of the past, in protected forest preserves and on agricultural lands. As communities spread, some of these trees have become part of our community forest. Society also has set aside some forests to remain wild and to maintain ancient trees in their natural habitat. We hope that the current veteran and ancient trees will remain with us for many more years. Does the next generation of ancient and veteran landscape trees have roots in our cities and communities today?
The myth of long-lived trees
Dr. Alex Shigo’s first entry in his book 100 Tree Myths is the myth that “trees are so big and tough nothing can injure them.” The passage continues with the observation that many trees die because of abuse from human activity. Undoubtedly, this is true, but what is the context for tree survival in the forest? For students and teachers of tree biology, the answer to that simple question is not so simple! Even such an obvious statement that “trees are long-lived” is not quite right. That statement is based on a tautology, related to the identity principle in arithmetic, that 1 = 1. Tautologies are true, but not very useful. Sure, long-lived trees are long lived. In my dendrochronology research, I’ve had the pleasure to work with trees that are more than several centuries old. But are trees usually long-lived in natural or community forests?