Branching Out

Posted by on Jan 5, 2014 in adaptations, Unmowed Blog, winter | 2 comments

The only thing more beautiful than a tree in full leaf is a tree with bare branches.wells horton tree in the snow

The branching pattern of this tree—of any tree—is beautiful, complex, and anything but accidental. There’s a reason for every twist and turn in every smallest twig. It’s all driven by the search for sunlight.

Each leaf has to maximize the amount of sun it receives in order to make food for the tree, and therefore the tree has to spread out as much as possible so the leaves don’t shade each other. But spread too wide and the branches will bend and break. The tree also has to grow upwards, to get above any possible competitors—but grow too high, and it’s at the mercy of the wind.

Each branch subdivides into multiple branchlets, which divide into multiple twigs, and so on. At the end of each twig a leaf will unfurl in spring, ready to start the food-manufacturing process.

Imagine trying to create a sculpture of this complexity, planning so that every leaf would be perfectly positioned to be shaded by its neighbors as little as possible and to soak up the maximum amount of sunlight. The eternal balancing act.

Thanks to Wells Horton for this beautiful photo!



  1. I like to think about what it is like to be a tree when I do the Tree pose in yoga. Now I more to think about! Lots of balancing!

    • yoga for trees, I love it

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