Monday, December 15, 2008

Limb Loss and Life Expectancy

Wild Plants and Wooly Bears

This past week’s ice storm tore large limbs from the pine trees surrounding my cottage. This was in addition to those limbs lost to recent, hurricane-force winds, not to mention the limbs that succumbed to the great ice storm of 1998. Now, I can walk about and view huge, ancient pines with great gaps, long stretches of trunk where once limbs projected.

So why mention this at all? Well, the thing brings up a question, and I can’t come up with an answer. Let me explain. Trees need leaves in order to manufacture food, chlorophyll, through the process of photosynthesis. In the case of pines and other conifers, the needles perform the same function as leaves on deciduous trees.

So my question is this: What percentage of limbs can a tree lose before it can no longer produce enough food to maintain life? It’s possible that I will learn the answer the hard way, when my trees begin to die. But that’s a heck of a way to find out. Better, it seems, to find a tree expert and see if there is a formula for the thing.

In the long run, I’m certain that ice storm loss and wind damage has a beneficial effect, natural “pruning,” if you will. When one big, old tree dies, it opens the surrounding area and allows sunlight to penetrate the canopy. This, in turn, permits other trees to reach for the sky, literally. Nature works in mysterious ways.

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