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The Petrified Forest of Lesvos

A long, long time ago… in August 2003, I holidayed with my family on the Greek island of Lesvos (or Lesbos). One day during our stay we paid a visit to the Petrified Forest of Lesvos, which just so happens to be the largest petrified forest in the world, covering as it does an area of several thousand hectares. The forest was declared a Protected Natural Monument in 1985; it is also designated as a European and Global Geopark.

Fifteen to twenty million years ago, a sub-tropical forest flourished on the north-western part of the island. But this lush ecosystem was suddenly entombed completely by pyroclastic material produced by volcanic activity in the northern Aegean Sea. This rapid burial coupled with the hydrothermic circulation of heavily silicated fluids within the sediment ensured that some plant tissues were perfectly fossilised. Inorganic matter replaced organic matter practically molecule for molecule in a process known as petrification. As a result the internal structures of many trees have survived, perfectly preserved, to the present time. Annual growth rings and even individual cells can still be seen clearly today, and several large trunks remain standing upright on their intact roots.

It’s hard to imagine a forest ever existing in such a dry and barren landscape.

This stump is seen from another angle in the photo below:

There’s me, aged seventeen, taking photos with a film camera. How old-fashioned!

Disclaimer: these photos were taken by my father with an early digital camera, the Fuji FinePix 1300. It was capable of capturing a whopping 1.3 megapixels.

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Some of the information in this post was taken from the Petrified Forest of Lesvos pages on the ‘Global Network of National Geoparks’ site. Further information can be found at the Natural History Museum of the Lesvos Petrified Forest site.

Posted in Holidays and field trips

The Plane Tree of Hippocrates

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (June 26th 2006)

On the Greek island of Kos, an ancient plane tree occupies Platanou Square in the capital, Kos Town. Located close to the harbour and the Castle of the Knights, it is under this plane tree that Hippocrates, oft regarded as the 'Father of Medicine', is according to legend said to have taught many of his students some 2400 years ago. Another legend tells of St Paul the Apostle standing beneath the plane tree, speaking to the inhabitants of Kos and spreading the word of Christianity. According to Wikipedia its crown has a diameter of about 12 metres, which is currently supported by a cage of green-painted metal.

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (June 26th 2006)

Contrary to the legends, the current tree is almost certainly not as old as they require. Yet it is likely that this tree is a descendant of the original tree, or perhaps a new tree that grew from the still-living roots of the original tree once its above-ground parts had expired. Thomas Pakenham, in his Remarkable Trees of the World (2002, Weidenfield & Nicolson), writes:

For centuries people have believed that this is the tree under which the great healer sat when he taught medicine to his disciples in the 5th century BC. I would like nothing more than to share their faith. [...] But kill-joys will point out that the wood of the oriental plane tree, Platanus orientalis, rots relatively quickly. Today the main trunk is a hollow shell like an old gourd. True, there are large branches growing out of the cage from the east side of the gourd; and there is a new trunk, layered from a branch on the west side about a century ago, now forming a delightful dome of young branches. But I doubt whether the original tree, whose trunk is now a shell, is older than 600 or 700 years.

But wait, say the fans of the great healer. Suppose there was a plane tree there in Hippocrates' day. Of course, it didn't live 2500 years. But its roots did. [...] The trunk, this old gourd, may be the fourth generation of the great healer's trees sprung from the roots.

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (August 3rd 2004)

I have visited the Plane Tree of Hippocrates twice; in August 2004 and again in June 2006. I must confess to being disappointed upon first seeing it, after hearing rumours of this legendary, ancient tree. But after visiting it for a second time, I could imagine its true size, as if its hollow trunk was still solid and whole.

the Plane Tree of Hippocrates (August 3rd 2004)

Posted in Notable trees + Holidays and field trips

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