The Weird Trees That Lean Toward the Equator

Fagjun | Published 2017-06-04 00:41

There are weird trees all over the globe, but the Cook pine tree is certainly something else.

Trees aren't strangers to strangeness. Strange trees pop up in many places around the world. Somalia, for one, has the majestic dragon blood tree that looks kind of like a mushroom. California's boojum tree, meanwhile, looks more like a cactus at first glance. The rainbow eucalyptus in the Philippines has a colorful bark. New Zealand, finally, is home to one of the largest trees in the world.

So what makes the Cook pine tree special? The tree looks pretty much like any other pine tree. What sets these pines apart, however, is that trees in the same locale all lean in the same direction. Cook pines in the Southern Hemisphere lean north, while pines in the Northern Hemisphere lean south.

Cook pine trees are native to the Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia. The tree was named after Captain James Cook, because botanists discovered the tree on Captain Cook's voyage. It is slender, conical, and can grow up to 200 feet tall in its native habitat.

When Matt Ritter, a researcher at California Polytechnic State University, began writing about Cook pines, he didn't expect to stumble on a very interesting revelation. As he was writing a desciption about the Cook pine, he figured out that all of the pines leaned in the same direction. The pines where he was all tilted south.

Getting to the Root of Weird Trees

Leaning towers of Cook pines
[Photo by Steve Lennie/Alamy Stock Photo]

Thinking that may be a pattern to all this, Ritter called his colleagues from all over the world to ask them if they noticed the same thing. It was then that he realized that Cook pine trees leaned toward the equator.

Ritter's team thus studied 256 of these weird trees in five continents. The team focused on trees located in places between the latitudes of 7 and 35 degrees north, and 12 and 42 degrees south. According to their study, they found that the trees leaned in an 8.55-degree angle on average. Interestingly, they also found that the trees slanted at bigger angles the further they were from the equator.

Even more interesting is that the trees leaned at about double the angle of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

So why do these weird trees lean toward the equator? Nobody actually knows yet. According to researchers, it may be because of the sun. The trees may be leaning toward the direction where they can get more sun. This is something that some cacti do as well, though this is the first time that trees have been observed to display the same behavior.

Hey! Where are you going?? Subscribe!

Get weekly science updates in your inbox!