Oldest Trees Grow at a Scary Rate

They keep 'growing like crazy' as they age

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 16, 2014 3:25 AM CST | Updated Jan 16, 2014 7:03 AM CST

(Newser) – Conventional wisdom about forestry has been chopped down and sent through the chipper by new research that shows large, old trees grow much faster than their younger counterparts—and speed up their growth as they age, becoming stronger as the years go by. Researchers studied measurements of more than 670,000 trees from 403 species on every continent but Antarctica and were amazed to find that the accelerated growth happened in almost every species, with some old trees growing so fast they added mass to their trunks and limbs equivalent to a whole mid-sized tree every year, the National Monitor reports.

The study suggests that trees simply don't suffer decline in old age, but are killed only by things like disease, insects, lightning—or loggers, LiveScience notes. In some old-growth American forests, the biggest trees comprised 6% of the forest but accounted for a third of the growth. The study has huge implications for forest management and carbon capture, the lead researcher, a US Geological Survey forest ecologist, tells the Los Angeles Times. "It’s the equivalent of managing a sports team," he says. "You need to know who your star players are. It turns out they’re not the 20-year-olds. They’re the 90-year-olds."

Trees rise from the Mt. Hood Naitonal Forest outside Zigzag, Oregon.
Trees rise from the Mt. Hood Naitonal Forest outside Zigzag, Oregon.   (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
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Trees keep growing like crazy through their life span. - Lead study author Nate Stephenson

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