Sunday, January 20, 2008

Strange trees

Mr. thalarctos and I drove around the Olympic Peninsula last weekend with Geobuddy--not the GeoBuddy GPS system that comes up when you google the term, but more of a Flat Stanley project for his young cousin back East.

We stopped at Kalaloch on the western Washington coast--here's the map, with the green arrow showing where we stopped:

I've never paid much attention to trees before, but hanging out at Pharyngula and Creek Running North has made me much more aware lately of the diversity and beauty of non-mammalian forms. So the trees registered in a way they never had before. It was just before sunset, so the light made their forms really stand out; the effect reminded me of a Maurice Sendak story.

You can see it a little bit in the long shot, but when you get closer, you can really see some strange shapes on the tree well:

I remember observing to Mr. thalarctos that it looked as if the trees had tumors. Sure enough, when I got home, I googled tree tumor, and got a ton of references. This old picture, from the year I was released :) (1958), shows a heavily-affected tree.

From: White PR. A Tree Tumor of Unknown Origin. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1958 Apr;44(4):339-44.

To my untrained and mammal-centric eye, this looked very much like the trees at Kalaloch. But I also came across references to tree galls, which seem to be a reaction to insects, and burls, which I am not sure about. And the article the picture came from seems to use "tumor" as a superset of "gall", while other sources seem to distinguish them from another.

All in all, a delightful puzzle to figure out over the next couple of weeks. And if anyone has any insights or clarification into what is going on with these trees, and with tree neoplasms in general, I'd be very interested in hearing about it.

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At 11:12 AM, Anonymous windy said...

I don't know what causes them, but I know that you can make a fancy necklace out of them.

PS: After our Kalevala discussion over at Pharyngula, I came up with a book recommendation that may or may not be useful: the Old Kalevala. I haven't seen this translation myself, but it could provide some useful background info even if you have limited time to spend on Finno-Ugristics...

At 4:21 PM, Blogger thalarctos said...

thanks for the reco; I will definitely check it out. I enjoyed our discussion there; I wish I had more time for following that where it will lead.

that necklace is wild :). he's got a lot of other interesting trunks and branches with weird growths in that shot, too--I think I see a bear face on that trunk by his left knee, but it's just my own special ursine-flavored pareidolia.

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous windy said...

Check out the gallery on the old man's site if you didn't already - there's some freaky stuff there. (the name means 'Burl Paradise')


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