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Slowest growing trees:

By: John Degroot
January 28 2006
Those who complain that their trees are growing too slowly might want to consider the plight of Olive trees in the Mediterranean. There, Olive trees grown in the wild practically donít grow. Ever. Technically, these Olive trees do in fact grow, but progress is hardly noticeable. From one generation to the next, Olive trees show little signs of growth. Studies have determined that some Olive trees currently growing in the Mediterranean have been growing there since before the birth of Christ.
Closer to home, the slowest growing trees are found on the side of cliffs. Apparently there are White Cedars (thuya occidentalis) growing on the sides of cliffs in the Great Lakes region that are estimated to be more than 150 years old, yet only 4 inches tall. They get no nutrients, because they are growing in rock rather than soil. They get water only when the wind is blowing in the right direction. There is no protection from winter cold and wind. These White Cedars managed to sprout after the wind deposited a seed in a crevice. Their luck continued after the seeds received water and the rest is, well, history. Officials are reluctant to divulge the location of these rare White Cedars, for fear that tourists might discover them.
Go to Japan, and you will find 400 year old trees that are less than a foot high. But donít blame Mother Nature for such slow growth, instead these trees are carefully pruned, fertilized, and meticulously cared for by experts in Bonsai. Records of the art of Bonsai date back to the 1300ís. Nobody can identify which Bonsai tree in existence today dates back the furthest. In North America, the art of Bonsai is a relatively new activity. A year and a half ago I had opportunity to visit the Chicago Botanical Gardens, where on display was an extensive collection of Bonsai trees, some dating back nearly 100 years. The most common trees used for Bonsai are varieties of Maple and Pine.
One of the slowest growing trees in North America is the Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva). These trees found in the Inyo National Forest in the White Mountain range east of the Sierra Nevada, are more noteworthy for their age than their growth rate. Bristlecone Pines are the oldest known species of trees on earth, some surviving more than 40 centuries. Because they grow best at high elevations, they become gnarled and sculpted into unique shapes and forms. The wood of Bristlecone Pine is rock hard and wonít decay. When a Bristlecone Pine finally dies, driving ice, wind and sand erodes or polishes the limbs over hundreds of years.
Bristlecone Pines grow best in poor soil with a minimum of moisture and a short growing season. In the Inyo Forest where Bristlecone Pines thrive, the growing season is less than 2 months.
Bristlecone Pines are not rare. Nursery growers in USA have begun to propagate Bristlecone Pines and they are now quite readily available. I once had one growing in a rock garden setting behind the garage, but I am embarrassed to say it did not survive more than 2 or 3 years. Next year I will plant a new one, but I will choose a more exposed location. I will deliberately put lots of gravel in the soil and I will plant it high and dry.
The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the Sierra Mountains of California is accessible to the public. A small interpretive centre has been set up for education purposes and there are public washrooms and a park or picnic area. Strict rules are posted to ensure the Ancient Bristlecone Pines Forest can be enjoyed for many years to come.




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