1. A living tree is 99% dead. The only live parts of a tree are the leaves, buds, root tips, and cambium—the thin green layer just under the bark, which transports food and water. All of the wood built up in the previous years of a tree’s life is composed of dead cells.
2. Some red maples can change their sex from one year to the next. One spring a tree might produce mostly male flowers, the next, mostly females.
3. For most trees, 90% of the roots are located in the top 12 to 18 inches of soil. You can see this when a large tree blows over in a storm. Very few trees form a true taproot.
4. The largest pine cones in the world belong to the Coulter pine of Southern California. Each one can weigh 10 pounds, and the locals call them “widowmakers.”
5. The word Adirondack comes from a Mohawk word that means “tree eater.” It’s an insulting term that was directed at the neighboring Algonquin tribes, who ate the inner bark of white pine and other trees as emergency rations. The same word also means “porcupine”—a true tree-eater that lives off bark and conifer needles in the winter months.
6. A large, leafy tree can take up as much as 100 gallons of water a day.
7. Sam Van Aken, an artist in New York, is currently working on a project of grafting 40 different varieties of stone fruits (plums, peaches, nectarines, cherries) onto one tree. His aim is not only to create a work of art, but also to draw attention to the many varieties of fruits disappearing these days because they don’t fit in with the goals and methods of modern commercial agriculture.
8. In Japan, scientists germinated a 2,000 year-old seed of Kobus magnolia, an ornamental tree still grown for its lovely flowers and commonly used in breeding programs with other magnolias. When it flowered 10 years later, the blooms looked just like modern-day Kobus, except they had one or two extra petals.
9. Giant sequoia trees can have a layer of bark two feet thick.
10. In a phenomenon called allelopathy, some trees’ roots release chemicals into the soil that suppress the growth of other plants. Walnuts are famous for this, but hackberry and tree-of-heaven do it, too.
11. Six ginkgo trees survived the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima in 1945 and live on to this day. The survivor closest to the blast was less than a mile from Ground Zero.
12. The oldest living organism in the world is a colony of quaking aspen called Pando, or “The Trembling Giant,” in Utah—still going strong after 80,000 years. It spans 106 acres, and although it appears to be comprised of individual trees, all of the trees are connected by the roots and all are identical clones of each other, making them, technically, a single organism.