Top 15 Extreme Trees - Volume I

Rooting through solid rock.  Growing a new trunk from a fallen one.  The resilience and ingenuity of trees can be mind-blowing.  Here's a list of trees that have blown my mind during my travels.  The list was long, but I've narrowed it down to the top 15 for this first volume of "Extreme Trees."

Chapter I: Bent but not Broken
#1 - Live oak reaching the ground to reroot and regrow at Fontainebluea State Park, LA

#2 - A white oak that Native Americans shaped (circa 1840's) as a "marker tree" in Blue Mounds, WI
#3 - A Silver maple going with the flow of the Delaware River, NJ
[If that one isn't blowing your mind, you may not be seeing it clearly.  Click any image to enlarge.]

#4 - A pine finding it's way at Pedestal Rocks, AR

Chapter II: A Time and a Place
What good is a tree that doesn't provide a resource, or at least add beauty, or at least improve the land around it?  Probably none.  Luckily trees almost always do those things.  This simple idea became clear to me in a simple environment: the semi-arid bushlands of northern Victoria, Australia.  One species of overstory tree (eucalyptus), one midstory tree (acacia) and one understory shrub (coffeebush) preside over a bare minimum of soil, moisture and growth.  Life earns a new appreciation when it's lacking everywhere you look.... well almost everywhere.

This is the dammed lake at the Fryer's Forest eco-community and that bright green in the back left is (#5) an oak tree sowed by settlers in the 1800's.  Oaks were initially planted in the region as tannin sources for leatherworks; now this one beautifies the community lake and alters microclimates.  Let's paddle over for a looksie.

On the left is the shady ground beneath the oaks. Note the darker soil and greener grass. The oak canopy improves conditions with leaf litter, shade and moisture. On the right is barren ground just beyond the oaks. Note the kangaroo poo. No reason. Just note it.

#6 - Eastern hemlock hugging the cliffs above Lucifer Falls, NY

Chapter III: Trees that Rock
An absence of soil, no medium for root growth-- a solid rock my seem problematic for plant life.  But as always 'the problem is the solution.'  Rocks offer a niche habitat for those hardy species that can sprout in anything, from a pile of leaves to a moist crack.

#7 - A eucalyptus at Mt. Alexander, Victoria Australia
#8 - Birch [?] in the Balsam Lake Mountain Forest, NY, apparently the home of several ecosystems
According to tree tender and master naturalist Dana Sullivan, this tree may have initially sprouted on flat soil.  But due to erosion from foot paths around this lake, the soil may have washed down, exposing the rock.

#9 - An oak along Richland Creek, AR
#10 - [unknown species] near the Delaware Water Gap, PA/NJ
Penetrating roots will eventually split the boulder.  Multiply that process by a few million, add lichen, weather and lots and lots of time, and we've got a pile of soil.  Again, the problem is the solution.

#11 - A birch on Mt. Moosic, PA, where only trespassers are welcome.
#12 - A pine on Pedestal Rock, AR

Chapter IV: The Meaning of Death
Releasing nutrients through decomposition, freeing space for sunlight, dropping seed.... making way for new life.

#13 - A flock of maple babies hoping to replace a fallen parent who was lost to erosion at Wilket Creek, Ontario
#14 - A rare, midwestern oak savanna protected from logging by the graves of pioneers at Rochester Cemetery, IA, 
#15 - Strangler fig in the sub-tropics of northeastern NSW. These parasites grow up native trees or very slow tall people, who are gradually overcome, choked to death and decomposed.  The strangler fig remains as a hollow, twirly mass and an excellent backdrop for facebook photos.

Here's a map of the 15 Trees in this Volume.

These are the photos of only one man, after only one year of travelling, in only two countries.  Have you found trees more extreme?  E-mail them to me (, and the Top 15 will be published in Volume II, reader-submitted and hopefully far more extreme!

Please include basic info on tree (species, location) and any credits (your name, your link, your photography company).  If yours makes the top 15 you'll be a published photographer :)

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