'Crown Shyness' Creates Otherwordly Gaps In Forest Canopies

Do you ever get tired of having company? We all need some personal space from time to time. Well, guess what? So do some trees. Certain tree species don't allow their crowns to touch. This "canopy disengagement," or crown shyness, forms a striking pattern—one which scientists don't fully understand.

Crown shyness phenomenon exhibited by trees in a tropical rainforest.

Trees Need Space, Too

Here's what researchers do know: crown shyness occurs most often with trees of the same species, but not always. Young and short trees avoid the tendency, but it does appear once they get older and taller, when their limbs begin to sway in the wind. According to ZME Science, "most of the trees are tall, slender, and typically found in high wind areas." This evidence might lead you to believe that trees practice crown shyness in order to avoid wind collision. But what does the science say?

Malaysian scholar Francis S.P. Ng studied Dryobalanops aromatica, or camphor trees, in 1977. These trees exhibit crown shyness, but he never found any evidence of that they had been hurt by rough contact. Instead, Ng theorized that "the growing tips were sensitive to light levels and stopped growing when nearing the adjacent foliage." That tendency has been documented in other plant species. Another prominent hypothesis is that trees keep their space in order to prevent spreading leaf-eating insect larvae.

Evolution Can Be Pretty

If you're interested in witnessing this form of convergent evolution with your own two eyes, we have good news: crown shyness happens across the globe This phenomenon has been reported worldwide in several different species, including Dryobalanops, eucalypt, Pinus contorta, and black mangrove. So go ahead and forest bathe—but remember, they're shy.

If you'd like to learn more about how trees communicate, check out "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from a Secret World" by Peter Wohlleben. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Watch And Learn: Our Favorite Content About Trees

Camphor Tree Crown Shyness

Why Do The Trees Bend In The Crooked Forest?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Trees in the Dancing Forest (also called the Drunken Forest) twist into curving patterns instead of standing straight. 00:16

  2. Humans can "train" trees to grow in certain ways. 01:18

  3. The Crooked Forest is full of trees with 90-degree bends at the bases of their trunks. 02:09

Written by Curiosity Staff March 3, 2017

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