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Wood You Believe These Trees

Sivi Sekula

Chewing gum owes its life to trees, as do loads of other everyday items you’d never have believed come from trees

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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Giant Sequoias

If you live on the West Coast, I’m betting you’ve heard of the famous Giant Sequoias that grow in national parks across California. These sequoia trees (pronounced “see-koy-ah”) are so massive, you won’t be able to fit one into a photograph unless you’re standing very far away, or zooming out with your camera.

The tallest sequoia is a whopping 316-feet high — as tall as a 31-story building. And sequoias can live for about 3,000 years. The species found in California are really old, so have some respect, please.

Even though they’re so big, sequoias aren’t the tallest, widest, or even the oldest trees on the planet. But they are the largest in volume. Some of the most famous sequoias are so special, they even have their own names. “General Sherman” (named after the US Civil War hero) is found in Sequoia National Park. “He” is the largest living tree on earth by volume. With a height of 275 feet, and a trunk width of 100 feet, it weighs 642 tons. Or about the same as 107 elephants.

Your grandparents may remember a sequoia tree that cars could drive through. Up in Yosemite National Park, the Wawona tree served as a beloved tourist attraction for more than eight decades. In 1881, someone decided that it would be great fun to carve a tunnel through the base of the trunk. The tunnel ended up being large enough for vehicles to pass through, bringing hordes of visitors to the park every summer. Sadly, the Wawona tree didn’t make it to a ripe old age. It fell in a severe storm in the winter of 1969, at only 2,100 years old. Many fans believe that if not for the tunnel in its base, it would have lived another 1,000 years.

The Dragon Blood Tree

I did not make up that name. But it’s a pretty cool name, so we’ll keep it. The official name of this particular species of tree is “Socotra dragon tree.” Socotra is an island off the south-east coast of Yemen. The island’s strategic location in the Arabian Sea makes it home to several plant species native only to Socotra Island. The most famous of these rare species is the dragon blood tree. It’s famous for several reasons, but mostly because of its very bizarre shape. It looks like how your five-year-old sister or brother might draw a tree; a bit like an umbrella or a mushroom.


It grows like that because of the island’s climate. Socotra is very hot and very dry. But every summer, the monsoon season (which takes place in South and Southeast Asia between May and September) brings drizzle and sea mist to the island. The trees use the moisture in the air to stay hydrated. The water collects on its long waxy leaves, then trickles down the branches and trunk, seeps into the soil, and feeds the roots. The extra-wide canopy casts a shade on the ground above the roots, protecting it from the hot sun, which would otherwise evaporate the water before it reached the roots.

But what’s with the dragon blood name? Well, the tree’s sap is so red, it’s the color of blood. And the tree’s shape looks like something out of a myth, which explains the dragon part. The sap has been used for millennia to make all sorts of important things, such as medicines and dyes. Resin made from the sap is still used today. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 695)

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