The Crown of the Forest

Mature beech trees reach a height of 30 to 45 meters (98 to 148 feet) and live for an astonishing 300 to 500 years. It is not uncommon for their trunk diameters to reach two meters (7 feet). Such large trees have extensive crowns and form a dense canopy that shrouds the forest floor in deep shade. Hardly a ray of sunshine ever reaches the ground, and on hot summer days, the climate is refreshingly cool and humid. However, this climate is anything but ideal for the young trees, because they lack the required sunlight. Beech trees solve this problem in an extremely social way. With their root system, they not only communicate with each other, but also help each other.

In this way, the old trees supply the young growing ones with sugar nutrients. The lack of light keeps the young beech trees growing extremely slowly, which in turn favors the long life of the beech trees. Sick and aging trees are also supplied by the healthy beech trees through their extensive root system. The social life of the trees in the forest ensures that the community is stronger than a single tree could ever be. The ingenuity of ecosystems and the inventiveness of nature is once again demonstrated here by the principle of emergence, according to which the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.

If you devote some time to look at beech trees with an eye for detail, you will quickly discover that no two trees are alike. Their extraordinarily feminine growth forms and social care for conspecifics endow them with the enchanting name ‘Mother of the Forest’. In addition, the beech is an important water supplier for the entire forest. Because the upper branches of the beeches rise steeply upward, they effectively collect rainwater and channel it down to the trunk as if in a funnel.

On the smooth bark of the tree, the water reaches the forest floor. This can be easily seen on rainy days, when the trunks of beech trees gleam with moisture and wetness. In this way, beech trees not only provide for their own water supply, but also for that of the soil organisms in their root zone. In this way, beech trees irrigate the entire forest and contribute significantly to the forest’s aquifer.

Frequently, beech trees still hold on to their leaves even in winter. During my forays through the forests of northern Germany around the turn of the year, I encountered this crown of the forest in the dense fog of a gloomy day. When I revisited this forest in the spring, the beech had let go of its leaves from last year and replaced them with a fresh generation of leaves glowing in neon green.

December 2020
Canon 5DSR, Rokinon 14 mm, f/16, 1/8 second, 8688x2466 pixels, 21 megapixels, ISO 100, Manfrotto 055B tripod with Manfrotto 410 3D geared head.
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