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A Forest Grew for Millennia in North America Without Anyone Noticing (atlasobscura.com)
220 points by curtis on May 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments

Ancient forests like this are not too rare in the United States. You can find a list of them here:


Disclosure: I compiled most of the list.

Hartwick Pines (one I'm familiar with) has an accessible asphalt trail through it. It's not undiscovered.

It's also cheesy that the wiki list gives the size of the park reserve rather than the size of the actual old growth stand. The full article gives the much smaller size of 49 acres of remaining old growth forest rather than the 9,642 acres given in the list.

People estimate that the Michigan lumber boom was larger (in value extracted) than the California gold rush. They cut down almost everything.

> It's also cheesy that the wiki list gives the size of the park reserve rather than the size of the actual old growth stand.

Probably an overzealous editor. I haven't checked the edit logs for that page in years. Feel free to correct it.

Randomly spot checking (first click), the Cathedral Pines in CT also lists the size of the preserve, even though the resources talk about the forest being damaged by tornadoes. It's more problematic in that a number for the old growth isn't obvious.

> It's not undiscovered.

What does discovery have anything to do with it? The article makes a different claim.

> What we now call “old-growth” forests are simply communities of trees that have been allowed to continue on undisturbed while most of the forest around them has been thinned or cut down entirely. In North America, even places that look thickly forested to us now are often full of relatively young trees, regrown on patches of land that were farms not so long ago.

I was responding to the language in the headline and subtitle and so on. "Without Anyone Noticing", "No one knew", "Secret", etc.

Great list!

I recently visited Cook Forest [1] in northwest Pennsylvania and it is breathtakingly beautiful. It's not just quantitatively different (bigger trees) but also qualitatively -- all towering evergreens in a very deciduous state. It's really sobering to think of how much we lost by clearcutting before we started to think about conservation seriously in the last 120 years or so.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cook_Forest_State_Park

Hmm. That's a pretty broad list. I live right outside the Smokies for example, and hike quite a lot in and around the park. Old growth trees are rare enough that individuals get called out in trail guides, let alone the quite unique entire stands that are at least pre-colonization. Maybe I'll try to add some specificity to that section.

> hike quite a lot in and around the park

I've hiked there a bit myself!


Most of my data came from Eastern Old-Growth Forests by Mary Bird Davis. She defined old growth as forests that were never logged or that are so old that there is no longer any evidence of logging.

The thing with many eastern forests is that because of either their species composition or their site conditions (soil, climate, etc), their trees will never get very large.

What I remember about the Smokies is that no one knew exactly how much they were logged, but the National Park Service estimated about 60 to 70 percent. Most of the remaining unlogged forests won't really have huge trees. In fact, some huge tulip trees that are popular hiking destinations are less than two hundred years old, while small hemlocks on ridges can be over three hundred years old.

Oh, awesome! And yeah, I know plenty of them don't get that big as they age, not every tree can rely on being fed the way the giants out west are haha. It's an unfortunate situation here these days, pollution, disease, and invasives have really damaged things, and it's pretty clear to see.

I guess I was mostly thinking about the general conception a lot of people tend to have that when they go to something like a national park (particularly in the east), that it's been completely untouched by time, when in fact we had fairly indiscriminate industry and war that giant swathes of places that were only received protections in the early 20th century and beyond.

Oh, and if we're sharing pics of big/interesting trees I would be remiss to skip the road trip where I was fortunate enough to see fat trees[1], dead trees[2], and rare trees[3].

[1] https://www.flickr.com/photos/23215983@N02/26863377690/in/da...

[2] https://www.flickr.com/photos/23215983@N02/26863377830/in/da...

[3] https://www.flickr.com/photos/23215983@N02/27069305001/in/da...

Well done on starting the list. I chipped in a bit on Australia, though I'm frankly quite amazed at how difficult it is to find any sort of authoritative list of locations! There are clearly thousands.

Good job!

Reminds me of how one man accidentally killed the oldest tree ever:


Then of course there's this article, "Vintage Photos of Lumberjacks and the Giant Trees They Felled"


The oldest bald cypress tree in the world grew in Florida for 3,500 years. Then it was burned down by a woman smoking meth inside of it.



In 1876, not long after the giant sequoia trees were (re)discovered by settlers in California, a cross section of a large tree was sent to the east coast where it was dismissed as a hoax. The giant sequoias still seem like a hoax when viewed up close; their scale is truly enormous. Although I am glad that they are protected now, it would have been an amazing sight to see them being logged. I highly recommend visiting Sequoia National Park if you have the chance.

I was there in January and you're absolutely right - they are far, far larger than I ever imagined! Standing beside one, you basically disappear compared to the tree.

See also

Ming the Mollusk, the oldest clam ever found, was 507 years old, according to tests. But Ming died prematurely thanks to the scientists who determined the age.


One thing I never understood is, were there other trees around that one? Are they also as old?

It's mentioned at the end of the link that an older tree has since been recorded.

Note the photo and think about counting 5000 age rings on a pencil (roughly the situation with a core) and I think it becomes clear that 'recorded' is an important part of it.

Definitely. Thats how I I started recognizing the older trees from the sequoias I believe which are one of the oldest species of trees out there.

Yes.. There are forests of the bristlecones. Most are hundreds and thousands of years old. The one that guy felled just happened to be the oldest of the group.

How would we know? AFAIK, we don't have ways to determine the age of a tree, other than counting rings.

As for accidents with trees, the Ténéré tree (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ténéré_Tree), an acacia tree that was standing alone in the middle of the Sahara, is worth mentioning.

How would we know?

In the story linked above they didn't know for sure, they just knew it was the oldest they had found yet. From that article:

Now, Currey almost certainly didn’t fell the oldest tree ever. There are forests in the White Mountains, and elsewhere, where trees currently standing are probably far older than his Prometheus tree. We just don’t know about them.

And then beneath that an update proving that he hadn't knocked down the oldest tree after all...

Update February 10, 2016: Since this article was written, an older tree was identified in the White Mountains, California. The tree is also a bristlecone pine and is thought to be over 5,000 years old.

Thanks, I'd never encountered the story of the Ténéré tree.

Such old trees growing in marginal environments like the rocky cliffs are valuable records of the past environment. Their annual growth is constrained by twmperature and rainfall. By measuring the rings produced in past years, we get information about the temperature and rainfall at those times. Since tree rings are annual, this gives climate data resolved to exact past years. For regions and times with no written records, this is one of the key sources to reconstruct past climate details.

And then there's Pando, the largest known living organism, and it's at least 80,000 years old.


How soon before word gets around and tons of people start climbing the cliffs to see the trees? Hopefully we find a way to protect them before then.

Word is around. From what I see, the information on the trees has apparently been known for a decent amount of time. Per this:


Research on this began in 1989, quite a long time ago. So there's been a lot of awareness for a while. Most of the web pages on Niagara Escarpment nature activities already mentions this old forest (one example is here: http://brucetrail.org/pages/about-us/the-niagara-escarpment).

However, you are right to worry -- apparently in this case the worry is that this area gets a lot of rock climbers, and there does seem to be a significant concern about rock climbing's impact on the trees (and other fauna). Yes, some actions are being done to protect them too. This article goes into some of the detail.


> there does seem to be a significant concern about rock climbing's impact on the trees (and other fauna).

Nitpick, but trees are flora, not fauna, so that parenthetical should probably be stated differently, perhas as either "(and other flora)" or "(and fauna)".

Hmm, maybe "(and other biota)" might be the best phrase.

One of the concerns was the impact on lichen for instance; I think lichen is neither considered flora or fauna.

Rock climbers in Ontario tend to be taught quite well in their training about the environment. At least I was. We tend to be quite strict about it to the point of instructing others if their actions are having a negative impact on the environment. It requires some education but that's one thing Canadians tend to be good at.

Though I won't deny we have some gung-ho climbers who don't care. Those guys tend to be shunned by the climbing community and are the kinds of people who have and cause accidents.

Just wanted to second this. When I climbed in Ontario, the cedars were pretty common knowledge and avoiding them at all costs was one of the tenets of being a good climber. Like any group, undoubtedly there's people who don't care; my experience was that most did.

It is already a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve:


And protection of it is pretty pathetic. I live in an area that seems to have free license to build new subdivisions on it (Waterdown bypass, Waterdown rd expansion, 'Waterdown south' developments).

That said, I believe rock climbing is forbidden @ Rattlesnake point and surrounding area where these trees I believe are located.

The cliffs sound small enough and difficult enough to scale that you wouldn't have "tons" of tourists, and it's possible that those areas are already protected.

Look what happened to Mt. Everest: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/04/02/travel/feat-mount-everest-... -- there's no "small enough" or "difficult enough to scale" (or "protected") when it comes to tourism.

I grew up five minutes away from the escarpment, near Guelph. I used to climb those cliffs as a kid. For the most part, respectful use is encouraged. Not a lot has changed since I was a kid with respect to these cliffs or the nature in and around them so I guess that is good. If you are curious what is being done, check this out: http://www.greenbelt.ca/

I grew up in the area and have known about the age of the trees since the mid-90s. For the people who go hiking here, it's already common knowledge.

I love trees.

hurry up we need to monetize this somehow


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