by Mary Reid Barrow
A sweetgum tree that fell flat on its face across the Bald Cypress Trail at First Landing State Park more than 50 years ago still lives today.
A “Comeback Kid,” among trees, the sweetgum proves how hard it is to count a big tree down and out.
This sweetgum’s trunk was severed from its roots at some point so the trail would be passable, yet the tree continued to grow beyond the trail, lying prone on a slight rise in the forest. Branches growing from the trunk look more like little trees because they are growing, so unlike a branch, straight up in the air toward the sun.
And at the top of the rise, the old tree took it upon itself to rise up off the ground and grow erect like a tree should. Now the second half of the sweetgum grows more than two stories high off the ground. The photo below is of Karen Forget, LRNow’s director at the base of the tree’s second half.
Even more amazing, part of the prone tree is hollow, hollow enough for a small child to crawl into. But somehow through all this, the tree is still getting nutrients from its slender tubes that conduct water and food because the cambium, the last ring in the tree before the bark, is still intact.
Over the years the tree also has been recognized in various park trail guides.. It was assumed that though sweetgums are good for damp soil, that area in the park just got too wet and swampy to support the tree.
The stalwart sweetgum’s ability to get knocked down and rise back up again is astounding, though not unique. Trees can withstand all sorts of slights and insults and keep on going. They can’t take shelter and can’t run to the emergency room, but must face head on everything from hurricanes to fires and lightning, from heavy construction equipment, to ugly pruning by electrical wire contractors and homeowners and more. And heal on their own.
As you walk through the park or your neighborhood, keep an eye out for other trees that are comeback kids. Look for resilient trees hanging vertically over the water, still growing and green. See them lying along the forest floor still producing new leaves and branches. Look for twisted and malformed trees that have overcome old injuries.
The next time I see prickly gumballs all over my driveway, I’m going to change my tune to one of admiration. Those tough seed pods are the product of a persevering tree determined to keep on keeping on.
Do you have a favorite tree, a secret tree grove or neighborhood climbing tree that you love? Let me know your stories about trees, the critters who live in them and the insects that dine on them. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can sign up below to be notified when my blog comes out.