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So You Say There’s a Race of Men in the Trees

They’re called botanists, and they are not just male, of course, but I had to use that quote. Anyway, this week’s New Yorker includes the story of the discovery of the world’s tallest tree (trees actually) this summer. The tree, a redwood, is 379.1 feet tall, and its lowest branches are two hundred feet up. It is fifteen wide at its base, which is pretty skinny. Imagine a 35-story building only 15 feet wide.

The article was written by Richard Preston, who last year had written a profile of botanist Stephen Sillett of Humboldt State University, who studies the biology of redwood canopies. The story fascinated me not just because of the challenge of climbing these giants, but because of the teeming life that thrives hundreds of feet above the forest floor. From last year’s article: “Sillett has discovered small trees—wild bonsai—in the canopies. The species include California bay laurel trees, western hemlocks, Douglas firs, and tan oaks. Sillett once found an eight-foot Sitka spruce growing on the limb of a giant redwood.” The canopy soil to support this growth collects on branches and in crotches and is up to three feet deep. Not just birds’ nests and squirrels, that’s for sure.


Rather interesting, but not too out of the ordinary.

Preston uses superlatives.

Actually "bonsai" means plant in a pot, as in man-made pot. Trees or plants growing in other trees is not all that hard to find in forests.

And with redwoods being larger and older sometimes, it's logical - not magical - that more of that would exist.

Either way, it's fun to look at.

Here's some images of the groves:

As you see, Preston is incorrect about only a handful of botanists knowing the locations.

I'm aware of others too.

There are several things that Preston wrote in the book, that could be construed as fiction.

Most of the forest facts are true.

Easy for you to say now that I have seen your page—amazing. Thanks for sharing. We were in San Francisco in June and while we didn’t see any big trees, we did enjoy walking among the toothpicks of Muir Woods. :-)

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