Four Centuries of Slow Growth

Cross section photo by Steve Signell
Click to enlarge image

While conducting a study of old-growth trees at Huntington Forest in Long Lake, New York, research specialists Steve Signell and Colin Beire came across a fairly nondescript, fallen hemlock tree. The tree had blown over and blocked a path; it had subsequently been cut and pushed to one side. Though the tree was only 20 inches in diameter, the dense growth rings on the butt end caught the men’s attention.

After removing a cross-section from the trunk, and really squinting their eyes, they established that the tree was almost 400 years old. Signell detailed his finding in a recent edition of The Spruce Moose, a publication of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

As you can see from the accompanying cross section, the tree grew very slowly at first. In 280 years, it put on about 10 inches of growth. Around 1890, the growth rings widened. According to Signell, this likely indicates a response to increased light following the harvesting of large spruce that was common to the area at the time.

“You hear people talk all the time about how there are no old growth forests around; and that may be true, but there are a lot more old growth trees out there than people think, said Signell. “And they’re not necessarily big.”

“I’m sure this wasn’t the oldest tree out there.”


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