My mother used to live in Sedona. We drove all of a few minutes over to it to eat at the popular Coffee Pot, named for one of the rock formations above Sedona. We had a nice breakfast.

We then went to a couple of sites to walk around a bit. The red rock scenery in Sedona is, of course, spectacular.

Shades of “Close Encounters”, apropos for Sedona.

I did a search and found a pretty interesting Sedona pic that a Russian guy named Giorgio took. Follow the link. That’s a potentially great image going through adolescent growing pains. Find the same tree and take just a few pains with a better image and you’re on your way to a career. He has some other pics of Sedona up that are quite nice with a pleasant looking person named Masha. Congrats to Giorgio, by the way, on finishing his dissertation back in 2004. (He announces the accomplishment on one of his pages.)

Oh, on the reason for the why of the spiral twisting of junipers and other conifers, forget energy vortexes or vortices which the vortex guides at Sedona say is the reason, it’s survival advantage on harsh sites. Read more about it at Golden Arrow Bonsai . In his article, “Why Do They Twist?”, Andrew Smith writes:

To get to the point right away, Kubler found that spiral growth conferred two main survival advantages for trees on harsh sites. First, spiral growth allowed water from each individual root to reach around to nearly every branch on the tree. And second, branches with spiral growth bent more easily, which allowed them to be more effective at dumping heavy snowfalls, and tended to prevent breakage in high winds. Both of these traits would be important for trees growing in harsh mountaintop conditions.

No cause for the direction of spiralling was given, but Kubler did note that almost all conifers start life with a left spiral, that is, the grain spirals upwards and to the left as you look at the tree. Then, after they become 10-15 years of age, almost all conifers switch to a right spiral for the remainder of their lives. As yet, this trait remains unexplained. And some trees switch back and forth throughout their lives.

As for survival advantage, Kubler found that spiral grain was definitely adaptive for dry, rocky sites. This has proved true in my experience; the rockier the site, the more twisted the trees are likely to be. And very seldom have I ever seen a tree with a noticeable spiral grain growing in good bottom land. In theory, the branches on a perfectly straight grained tree are fed only by the roots that are directly below them. Water from the root system follows the grain of the stem wood up the tree with minimal lateral movement. So, in a straight grained tree, if all the roots on the south side of the tree were cut, or did not receive moisture, the branches on that side of the tree would eventually die.

On a tree with spiral grain however, each root feeds nearly the whole tree, so if all the roots on one side of the tree die the foliage should survive unharmed. The reason for this is because the xylem, the stem wood that carries moisture from the roots to the crown, will spiral less far around the stem as the tree grows and stem diameter increases. Each new year of growth will be slightly offset from previous years growth, with the end result that the flow from one root will be distributed nearly completely around the tree bole, rather than just in a narrow band spiralling around the stem. This has been proven by injecting conifers with dye at the base. As conditions get harsher, the grain will tend to spiral at a more extreme angle around the stem.

And the system works in reverse too. Tree nutrients descend from the foliage in a spiral path to feed the whole root system, rather than just a single root. This return system is not quite as efficient as the root-to-foliage system is, since nutrients are transported only in a very thin layer of living cells called the phloem. Since the phloem is never more than one or two years growth thick, it lacks the depth to distribute its flow as widely as the xylem does. However, this is not a serious problem since tree roots can live for months or longer without food, while the foliage can generally only live a few days without water.

Old trees with spiral grain frequently have a beautiful corkscrew pattern of dead wood running up the stem. In extreme cases the majority of the stem is dead weathered wood, and only a thin strip of bark spiralling around the trunk is keeping the tree alive. I am not sure what causes this, but I would tend to believe that it probably originates from some stress in the foliage, with the resultant death of a narrow band of phloem cells down the stem, rather than from some stress in the roots.

Kubler also found that spiral grain actually made trees structurally weaker, but at the same time allowed them to bend more under wind and snow, and thus avoid breakage. So while a tree with a pronounced spiral grain will not make nearly as good a grade of lumber as its straight grained counterpart, it will have a definite survival advantage when it comes to shedding heavy loads of snow, or surviving a mountain windstorm.

Kubler found that genetics, age, and exposure to wind and dry conditions were the main determinants of spiral grain. Some trees seem genetically predetermined to show spiral grain no matter where they grow. In most however, spiral grain is a sign of harsh conditions; of fierce winds, unpredictable precipitation and great age.

So now, when you see that twisted old pine or juniper in a pot, you will know that this tree is a long term survivor of all nature has to offer. I have found that since spiral grain generally indicates decades or even centuries of poor growing conditions and very slow growth, it is one of the most accurate indicators of very old age in a tree, at least in the species I am familiar with. As such, it lends all the charm and charisma of bona fide antiquity to the trees it graces.

Check out Andrew Smith’s viewing stones.

I love bonsai. One day I’ll get one. A brother and his wife gave us a bonsai for Christmas last year but it proved to be an outdoor specimen. We should have given it back to him or another relative who could keep it outdoors rather than trying to make a go of it in our apartment. Didn’t work and it still feels like one of those needless losses. It was a pretty little tree.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

6 thoughts on “Sedona”

  1. Sedona is a beautiful town renowned for its mystical powers throughout the world. This tiny town is considered one of the most powerful energy spots on this planet, loaded with vortices, both magnetic and electrical.

    Did you feel it?? We did when we were there in 1999.

    Beautfiul pictures!

  2. Night Bird, I just was occupied with the scenery and with, at the spot above, fears of H.o.p. running and slipping and going through the guard rail right over the edge, so I was a barky parent much of the time. “Don’t run!” As if he could have been sucked through a 12 inch opening but I wasn’t taking chances with my only progeny. Anyway, I get so blithering ecstatic over pretty scenery I doubt I would feel anything like an energy vortex if I was standing right on top of one. And we only spent a brief amount of time at Sedona.

    In truth, I’m a skeptic. Last night I looked about the web for some info on those vortexes to see what was up with that, how it got started, and a little video I saw didn’t make me any less skeptical. Nor do all the guide sites with fake shamans with fake Indian credentials.

    So,where did you go? Did you do any of the hiking trails to these sites and some of the more stunning rock formations? What did you feel?

    I was impressed that despite its growth and the tourism, Sedona’s not throwing up billboards, big or small, not that I remember seeing. I was thinking a lot about the growing pains it must be going through and how it’s handling them and how it’s going to handle them in the future. So far so good, I guess, though I imagine people who have been there a while might have their complaints. I know if I could somehow manage it, I wouldn’t mind living in such a beautiful area.

  3. Idyllous,

    You are taxing my memory on that one. I will have to go pull out the notebook we kept when we made our first trip cross-country.

    I remember we left the Grand Canyon much later than we planned and were annoyed but when we came down 89A, that changed.

    We stayed in a Campsite right off the main road and hiked a trail. Our kids were really little then so we were limited in how far we could go.

    It was beautiful there. Thanks for the memory.

  4. I’ll have to check out the spiral growth thing with our local Austin cedars which are actually junipers, and which oftentimes grow in a spiral pattern. And sometimes they don’t. And it’s true they usually grow in harsh environments. It would be especially interesting if they reversed the spiral at a certain age.

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