The Science of the Super-Suck

Red Bud
Red Bud

I never saw a discontented tree.  They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast-rooted, they travel about as far as we do.
~ John Muir

I love trees.  I think you probably already knew this by my past tree posts, but I thought I’d reinforce this fact with mind-blowing information recently coming to light.

We all know that trees give us life with every “breath” they exhale. But did you know they also give us water? Yes, they do. But that’s not the part I didn’t know.

Love is...Climbing Trees!
Love is…Climbing Trees!

The tallest trees we know of — say, the Redwood — seem to defy gravity. Knowing how water works in vertical columns (did you know that you can only suck water so far up a straw?), they also appear to defy the laws of fluid mechanicsLaws, schmaws, they say, doing their own thing for billions of years, waaaay before the Anthropocene. (Too bad you didn’t grow legs, my Sassy Little Tubes of Fiber.)

My lovely Texas neighbor and virtual gardening companion, PlumDirt, shared with me a video out of the blue.  She said she instantly thought of the kids (and me too). It would appear I’ve got her brainwashed. Yesss.

Question:  How does a 50-ft tree get water all the way up to the leaves at the tippy top, when the limit (by the laws of physics) is say, 30 feet?
Answer:  The Super Suck.

Here it is, explained; thank you, Veritasium.

Gawd, I love science! I hope you learned something today.  Like him, I will never look at trees the same way again.

Care for your trees: leave their leaf “litter,”
water them (not your lawn) long and deep, and enjoy
the naturally fresh morning breath they emit, when you can.

18 thoughts on “The Science of the Super-Suck

  1. That’s one informative video, but there are so many principles of physics in it that seem to vie with one another for the truth that I think I could have been led equally plausibly to almost any conclusion. Maybe with several viewings I can get my mind straight.

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    1. Yes, and I’m not certain that “super-suck” is such a good *ahem* technical term. My professional chemical engineer better half — who regularly deals with the challenges and physics of pumping water to great heights in the human world — muddies the H2O that much more. In this case, the kids liked the term so much, a post was born.

      As a mother, anything educational (a/k/a/ using the scientific method to explore or explain) that gets kids to love and respect trees as much as I do is worth the share. I remain hopeful that one of mine will go into the field of biology and can explain it to me later in dutiful fashion, you know, to make it that much more worth the investment! Thanks for your great comment. It’s good to have you here, Steve. 🙂

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      1. I’m always wowed whenever I watch it. Good to see you again, Steve. Incidentally we are seeing bright fuchsia pink wildflowers in bloom along the hwy with bluebonnets and paintbrush. Any idea what they might be? Figured you’d know! Cheers…and happy spring.

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  2. The trees with all their super sucking are helping dispose of the flood water here. Go trees! Thank for the info. As ever, a treat to visit Dirt ‘n’ kids.

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    1. Haha! Yes, Bob, you guys in central and west Texas definitely get to share the rations. Hoping that ends soon.

      It sounds strange to read it, but as the tree’s go, so does our water. They are big players in the cycle of H2O (transpiration, evaporation, precipitation, repeat). We should give more respect to the gentle giants and quit clear-cutting vast swaths for our [singular] purposes. Thanks for commenting, Bob. Glad you enjoyed!

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    1. Well, you should know that I think it is MOST AWESOME and appreciate that you thought of me to pass along to! You rock. And I don’t mean the ones in your garden soil either. 🙂

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