For you have five trees in Paradise which do not change, either in summer or in winter, and their leaves do not fall


The genius behind the square tree was Robert Falls, who in the late 1980s was a PhD candidate in the U. of B.C. botany department. Falls noticed that some tree trunks exposed to high winds had become less round in cross section — they’d grown thicker on their leeward and windward sides to buttress themselves. Falls theorized that flexing of the bark by the wind encouraged the cambium— the layer of growth cells just beneath the bark — to produce extra wood. To test his theory, Falls subjected trees to what he thought might be comparable stress by scarring them with surgical tools. Sure enough, more wood grew at the site of the scars.

Hearing the news, a professor in the university’s wood science department suggested Falls try using this discovery to grow trees with a square cross section. Square trees would be a boon to the lumber industry. Since boards are flat and trees are round, only 55 to 60 percent of the average log can be sawed into lumber — the rest winds up getting turned into paper pulp and the like, or just gets thrown away. So Falls obligingly scarred seedlings of several species (western redcedar, black cottonwood, and redwood) at 90-degree intervals around their trunks. The trees responded as hoped, becoming “unmistakably squarish,” he tells me. (…)

Square trees were just the start. In 1989 Falls was awarded a Canadian patent for an “Expanded Wood Growing Process,” a bland title that fails to capture the revolutionary nature of the concept. Square trees by comparison are a mere novelty. The young scientist had come up with a way to grow boards.

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image { Bo Young Jung & Emmanuel Wolfs, Square Tree Trunk stool II, 2009 | bronze }