Life on Planet Earth: Trees, Forests, and Plant Life

About the species and varieties of trees and forest plant life found on planet Earth.


The 1st trees on earth, arriving out of the sea some 300 million years ago, were giant seed ferns. Some 60 million years later, great forests of the Carboniferous Age laid down their woody deposits that changed slowly into peat, then lignite, and finally into compacted coal, our greatest fossil fuel. The largest living thing is a Sequoia gigantea tree, the "General Sherman," and earth's present tallest tree is a redwood, a Sequoia sempervirens, both ancient giants being located in California. The oldest living thing is a tiny bristlecone pine atop windswept Wheeler Peak in Nevada. It is 4,900 years old--what's left of it. (Any socalled "living tree" is in fact only 1% or even less "alive"; the rest is all deadwood.) There are 865 species of trees native to the U.S.

Earth is girdled by forests, all in imminent danger of destruction by bugs and disease, by fire, but chiefly by man. The Mayans of Yucatan cleared the jungle forests and raised great cities, the ruins of which may be viewed today. They're not unlike the great palaces and temples built where the Khmers of Cambodia cleared jungle forests for farming. Unfortunately, the soil beneath these forests, when exposed to sun and air, undergoes complex chemical changes and turns into a rocklike substance called laterite. This material makes for beautiful architecture, like the temple of Angkor Wat, but it also makes land useless for farming. Presently, the Brazilians are clearing a vast highway through tropical forests in the Amazon River basin, and one may expect a fate there similar to what overtook the land of the Mayans and the Khmers.

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