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In the remote Campbell Island, situated more than 600 km south of New Zealand’s mainland, grows a solitary Sitka spruce that has gained distinction as the loneliest tree on earth. Its nearest neighbor is over 220 km away, on the Auckland Islands, while the nearest member of its own species is on another hemisphere altogether, across the Pacific. So how did this lonely Sitka spruce come to be where it is?

Campbell Island is one of New Zealand’s most southern island. It is located in a region dominated by fierce westerly winds—the Furious Fifties— that doesn’t allow anything taller than a few feet to grow. The weather, while not freezing, is far from pleasant. Temperatures rarely climb above 10 degree centigrade. Everyday is cloudy and most days are rainy. There are only 40 rain-free days on Campbell Island, and barely 600 hours of sunshine per year—that’s an average of less than two hours a day. The only plants that survive these conditions are a kind of perennial herbs called megaherbs. They are so called because they grow unusually big with leaves as large as a sheet of printer paper—a strategy they have adopted to make the best use of whatever little sunshine they receive.

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Photo credit: chsgardens.co.nz

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