I Traveled 10,754 Miles Just to see a Tree – and it was Dead!

Ok, so maybe I did a few other things as well during 6 weeks in Australasia, but seeing a 4,000 year old tree was one of the things I remember vividly, and with affection, when I visited Tasmania.

I remember it vividly for a lot of things…

For the day-long bus ride from Hobart to Strahan;

For the 2 nights in a rather fancy villa on a hill – alone;

For the 2 hour winding river cruise there (and 2 hours back);

For the gnats and midges and sweaty sub-tropical forest heat;

For the 30 minute walk (each way) along a raised twisting boardwalk above the flooded forest floor between tree roots and branches;

For the fact that no-one had bothered to tell me that the tree-trunk in question was dead, and had been for a rather long time!

Imagine my face when I walked around a corner – sweaty, hot, bothered, sea-sick and hungry – to be greeted by the site of the biggest tree I had ever seen lying flat on the floor, half of it sub-merged in swamp-like water.

I was so very pleased that I had spent one of my precious days doing this (and two more to get there and back).

Absolutely jolly over-the-moon.

And yet it is something I have always remembered, not for the above disappointment, but mostly for the environmental issues I learnt regarding tree preservation.

For anyone looking to buy wooden anything, but garden furniture is a popular use of timber – especially high class timber like Cedar, then awareness of the conservation issues might be something of interest to you.

I’m now going to bore anyone left reading this with information about my learning from 15 years ago.

And you know what, I will take my boys out there when they are older, to waste 3 days of their lives, just to visit a tree, a dead tree.

Why?

Because it’s worth it.

Bye for now

Alison

Now to the Serious Stuff

The tree in question is a Huon Pine (which isn’t actually a pine but don’t tell it, it might get upset!). And the fallen part in question was dated at 4,000 years old. Now to us that’s pretty OLD but for a Huon pine system, it’s a youngster. These trees don’t become seed bearing adults until 800 – 1000 years old (teenagers!) and although the bit I obsessed over was, to all purposes, ‘dead’, this was not the whole story by any means.

Of course, being observant, I didn’t bother to read the notices or listen to the commentary on the boat, or even do any research… but it turns out the Huon pine can clone themselves vegetatively (which means a dropped branch will root itself) to cover massive areas (known as a ‘Stand’) at the speed of… well, sloths move quickly in comparison (0.3 – 2mm a year for the tree if you are interested). So, all the roots and stems and branches I walked through for an hour were probably the same tree as the fallen one.

Bored yet?

No?

Good.

Then I’ll continue…

One ‘Stand’ has been classified as over 10,500 years old because of this cloning thing and covers miles and miles of land. All male. All one tree. All the same genetics and DNA. A forest of one tree, one enormous, massive, organism.

It is a wonderful wood for woodworking, boat building and carving due to it’s properties (such as it doesn’t rot and is a softwood) and so it was felled extensively over 200 years ago (by convicts at the Sarah Island colony who also made ships, lots of ships) so a lot of the biggest trees are gone. The smaller branches and stuff was just discarded and left where it fell in the waters.

Huon pine is only found in South-western wet Tasmania and, as said already, grows so slowly that any fallen trees cannot be replaced within a human life-time or two, three, five! It is definitely not a renewable resource.

Thankfully, no felling is now allowed… but because the timber does not rot, all of the broken branches, sunken logs and those unwanted left-overs from years back are still available to be rescued and used. And when a hydro-electric scheme was planned, felled wood was made into rafts and left floating, to be recovered at a later date.

With only three saw-mills in the world licensed to mill Huon pine, it is expected that the supply of already felled Huon pine will last at least a couple more generations. If you want to buy some then you better think about a loan. A big loan.

I’ve included some links to sites below that know a lot more than I ever will if you are interested.

Learn more :

http://www.huonpine.com/pages/teepookana-salvage.php

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/life/weekend-australian-magazine/the-oldest-tree/news-story/16e5f9dd65ded005122d725ef2c12b00

http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2013/02/12/3688724.htm

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