The loneliest tree in the world


I came across this on WUWT where the climate bods are getting all excited about what a core sample told them – but that is all boring.  For those of you who also like quirky facts here’s one:

Campbell Island is one of those places few people can point to on a map but it is notable for many things. Perhaps the most visible of these is the lack of trees. Technically speaking, the Sitka spruce is the only tree on the island; all else has evolved into wind-tolerant low-lying shrubs and grasses. For a plant on Campbell Island, keeping your head down and out of the wind is a good thing.

Luckily for us, “how” the tree got to Campbell Island is no mystery. In 1901, eccentric New Zealand Governor General Lord Ranfurly visited Campbell Island in the steamer Hinemoa on his tour of the outlying reaches of the Dominion, and to collect bird specimens for the British Museum. By his own admission, the bird-bagging was not a complete success, but Lord Ranfurly was impressed with all that he saw of the place and, as was typical of a man of his time, he lamented the fact that the island was not in productive use.

The records are slim, but the Hinemoa’s visit to Campbell Island must have coincided with a rare calm spell in the Southern Ocean weather. A nice day on Campbell Island has a special charm, and perhaps this fuelled Lord Ranfurly’s idea that the island be clothed in productive forestry. It was a case of a grand vision versus the might of the west wind.

In the great New Zealand tradition of celebrating a good idea, a tree was planted. A Sitka spruce. On the next scheduled visit of the Hinemoa to Campbell Island a site was selected at the head of Camp Cove. In time, this hardy sapling became known as the Ranfurly tree, a symbol of progress and development, which endured despite the constant westerly gales and the meteorological station staff’s desire for a Christmas tree. Over time, the Ranfurly tree showed the kind of grit that gets a tree noticed.

Fame is a quirky thing. The passing of years can produce curious and unexpected results. Ranfurly’s tree became famous for reasons far more abstract than its original purpose. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ranfurly’s tree is the “remotest tree in the world”; that is, the tree furthest from its nearest neighbour.


The next closest tree over 200km away on the Auckland Islands.

The 117-year-old tree itself is an anomaly in the Southern Ocean. It is naturally found along the North American Pacific Coast. The oceanic climate has had an unusual effect on the spruce. Although it has grown to 10m tall, the tree has never produced cones, suggesting it has remained in a permanently juvenile state.

(The same thing cannot be said for our species – there are plenty that have produced and yet remained juvenile.)


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Dr Seuss may have been describing WH when he wrote, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish. And mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy.”  WH, however, is tallish and only just fits in his MG.