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The Mysterious Trees That Walk

by Kurt Gruber

It takes a whole day to travel from Ecuador’s capital, Quito, to the heart of the Unesco Sumaco Biosphere Reserve, some 100km to the southeast. The journey entails three hours by car to the edge of the forest, and then anywhere from seven to 15 hours by boat, mule and foot, mostly uphill and on a muddy road, to reach the interior. But the effort is worth it, considering you wind up in the middle of a pristine forest that houses a rather unusual find: walking palm trees.

Like the Ents from JRR Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings saga (only a bit slower), these trees actually move across the forest as the growth of new roots gradually relocates them, sometimes two or three centimetres per day.

“As the soil erodes, the tree grows new, long roots that find new and more solid ground, sometimes up to 20m,” said Peter Vrsansky, a palaeobiologist from the Earth Science Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences Bratislava. “Then, slowly, as the roots settle in the new soil and the tree bends patiently toward the new roots, the old roots slowly lift into the air. The whole process for the tree to relocate to a new place with better sunlight and more solid ground can take a couple of years.”

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Thursday, December 17, 2015