Most of my childhood holidays were spent in the back seat of the car with my sister, eating fruit tingles and watching trees rush by the window. No, we weren’t on the way to the beach, or some fun-filled family adventure park. Instead we drove from national park to national forest in search of one thing.
And no, it was not as exciting as it sounds.
My dad believes that seeing a big tree is a key aspect of any family trip. As a child, I did not understand his fascination. Yet as I’ve grown older (and studied ecology) I’ve begun to really appreciate these giants of the forest. They represent hundreds of years of natural history. They are often key parts of the ecosystem, offering vital food and shelter for many other organisms that we know and love (notably Victoria’s endangered state emblem, the Leadbeater’s possum). Big trees come in all shapes and sizes (admittedly most are on the larger size). Some can be climbed (for example, the Karri forest in WA) and others can be explored on paths hanging in the canopy (such as the Otway Fly in south-west Victoria).
Now that I’ve sparked your interest, I know what you’re thinking – where can I find some of these giant beauties? Well, dear reader, there are big trees all over the world, all you need to do is start looking!
You many have heard of the looming coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens; pictured left) of California, which are the tallest trees still living on the planet. The tallest tree among these giants is named Hyperion, which has been measured to be 115.61 metres tall and is therefore listed as the worlds tallest known living tree.
Here in our own backyard we have the towering mountain ash, which are the tallest flowering plants in the world (compared to the conifers like coast redwoods), growing in remnant temperate rainforests of south-eastern Australia.
Although the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva; pictured right) is not the largest of trees, it still gets an honorable mention for being the oldest known living tree in existence. One of these trees, found in the mountains of the southwest United States, is an astounding 5062 years old. This makes it the oldest known living (non-clonal) organism on Earth.
Let’s not forget the world’s most massive tree, the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which is also native to California. Although it is neither the tallest or widest tree out there, the Giant Sequoia is one of the largest living things on the planet, with a cubic volume of up to 1,487 m3.
So now that you’re all inspired to hunt the globe for these amazing giants, I have to tell you that you had better start soon. Although some of these trees have been on the earth for thousands of years, they may not be around much longer. As this article by Bill Laurance on The Conversation highlights, big trees have many vulnerabilities, and are declining all over the world. Recently Toolangi’s forest, one of the last mature and unburnt areas of Mountain Ash forest in Victoria, was dealt a devastating blow due to logging laws.
So I am writing this blog post as my small contribution to the Big Tree cause. By spreading knowledge and sparking interest in these majestic giants, we may be able to save them from what currently seems like an inevitable downfall. Hopefully we save some of the big trees, not only for the ecosystems that can’t survive without them, but so I too can bore my children with some dull and tiresome family holidays.