The resilience of trees during major storms

We were watching the weather report on television as hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas, causing devastating damage.

After viewing the palm trees bending in half, Mary Alice asked me how the palm trees withstand the 180 mile winds?” Through the years, she has asked me many questions that I had no answer for and this was another one.

So, to give her an answer, I had to do some research, and here’s what I found. Palm trees, which typically bend during gusty winds, are not made of wood but a spongy tissue that is scattered inside the palm; some of its cells are materials and others can easily flex and then return to their position. Nature has given palm trees the ability to bend with the wind, while other trees are uprooted or snap in half. Although the palm tree is technically a tree, they are actually more related to grass, corn and rice than they are to other trees. Two kinds of palm trees are the date and the coconut.

Basically nature has given our trees two systems to survive high winds. Trees, such as the evergreens, which do not have deep root systems, have flexibility to give them protection from the winds. While tees, such as the oaks, do not bend but have a very deep tap root, which holds the tree erect.

Our word tree comes from Old English that goes back to the Indo-European word deru, which was a word used to designate oak trees rather than trees in general.

Although it has been said that trees serve man from the cradle to the grave, trees are so commonplace that we tend to overlook them. “Families are like branches on a tree, we all grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.” (Author Unknown) During the summer months, many families have reunions to get together with relatives that have spread across the land. When looking up our ancestors it is known as searching our family tree.

Man and trees have been bound by a bond since the beginning of time. Perhaps this is why sacred groves of trees have played an important part of cultures throughout the world. We have the Cedar Trees of Lebanon; Redwood Groves in North America; the Shaman Forest in Peru; the Garden of Gethsemane in Israel and the sacred sites of Shinto and the Buddhist Groves in Japan.

The species of trees that were native in colonial times are still with us today, with the exception of the white cedar, which has become extinct. Age, size, quality and value are the differences of trees today compared to colonial times.

Back in colonial times, trees were considered a problem as the people set about clearing the land to plant crops. In 1681, trees were being cleared at such an alarming rate William Penn said, in his Charter to the colonists, “In clearing the ground, care be taken to leave one acre of trees for every five acres cleared, especially to preserve oak and mulberry for silk and shipping.” However, no one seemed to heed this, and the land continued to be cleared.

By the early 1900’s, practically all the virgin timber within the state had been cut. This caused some people in becoming concerned about the plight of Penn’s Woods. In 1895, the State Department of Agriculture was created, and the Commission of Forestry was within this Department. Dr. Joseph Rothrock was the first commissioner, and today, he is known as the Father of Pennsylvania Forestry.

As our nation grew so did the demand for wood, and trees became valuable. In 1860, Pennsylvania led all the states in the production of lumber. Lumber production peaked at 2,300,000 board feet annually; however, Pennsylvania had eventually slipped to third place in lumber production among the states.

The name Pennsylvania means Penn’s Woods, and although today, the state is almost 60% forested, at the time of William Penn, it was almost completely covered with trees.

Throughout the state, trees with historical connections were spared from the saw. The most famous tree in Pennsylvania was the Penn Treaty Elm. Under its branches, in 1682, William Penn signed his treaty with the Indian Chiefs. This grand old tree stood at Shackamaxon Street, near the Delaware River in what is now the Kensington Section of Philadelphia. In 1810, the Penn Treaty Elm became a victim of strong storm winds. The tree measured 24 feet in girth, with one branch being 150 feet in length.

In our area, we also had a famous tree, the Tiadaghton Elm. It had been said that a group of people met under this elm to sign a Declaration of Independence from England at approximately the same time the Declaration was being signed in Philadelphia.

Many poems have been written about trees and the forests. The deep carpet of leaves and sunlight drifting through the tree canopy are just two descriptions often used in poems to describe the tranquility of a forest. However, the forest is anything but quiet and peaceful. There is always a desperate struggle to survive, with trees competing for space with other species; insects eating the bark, and leaves; animals feeding on the buds and even the seedlings. All of these combined with snow, rain, drought and wind take their toll on the forests.

Yes, we do take trees for granted; however, our lives would be much different without them. So, go hug a tree today.