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Nick Gaskill

Wolfram|Alpha Keeps Growing with Tree Growth Data

February 9, 2011 —
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It’s a bit of an understatement to say that trees play vital roles in each of our lives. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen back to it. Our houses are made primarily of wood. We line our properties with trees to give us shade and privacy and also to reduce the wind that reaches our homes. Even the syrup we put on our pancakes is made from tree sap. One important species of tree, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), is prized for both its sap and wood production. Therefore, it is important to know the growth pattern of the tree. How tall is it when it is, say, 50 years old? Thanks to data given to us by the United States Forest Service, you can now ask Wolfram|Alpha that exact question.

Click the image for the full results

Click the image for the full results

Wolfram|Alpha gives the average height of a sugar maple in my location, which is Illinois. Other growth statistics for Illinois are also presented, such as the optimal height, average trunk diameter, optimal trunk diameter, average and optimal growth curves, and the height distribution. Data for all sugar maple trees in the United States appear below the Illinois data. Each of these properties can also be queried directly. For example, you can ask Wolfram|Alpha for the optimal diameter of a 50-year-old sugar maple.

Optimal diameter of a 50-year-old sugar maple

It’s important to note that the optimal growth data presented here have been computed from the data based on a mathematical projection of optimality, the Pareto front. In other words, this is strictly a prediction of what growth under optimal conditions may be rather than an actual measurement of tree growth under optimal conditions.

One advantage of using Wolfram|Alpha is that it contains so many different types of data. Asking for just the sugar maple gives you taxonomic information in addition to the growth curve for the entire United States.

Sugar maple tree

In the cases so far, I knew that the sugar maple corresponded to an exact species of tree, Acer saccharum. But what if you don’t know the exact species of tree that you want to find growth information for? No problem. Wolfram|Alpha still has you covered, letting you ask each of the above types of questions for a broader classification of tree.

Click the image for the full results

Click the image for the full results

Since the growth of trees can vary significantly according to region, Wolfram|Alpha also lets you specify the state you’d like to view growth data from. For example, what if you’re interested in the growth statistics of oak trees in Pennsylvania? Just ask Wolfram|Alpha.

Click the image for the full results

Click the image for the full results

Of course, Wolfram|Alpha also has growth statistics on other types of trees besides just maples and oaks. Pine, walnut, and ash trees are among the more popular tree types that Wolfram|Alpha has growth statistics on. Go ahead and ask Wolfram|Alpha about the trees in your neighborhood. Are they larger or smaller than average? What other kinds of questions about trees or plants would you like for Wolfram|Alpha to answer?


An API is essential for complex queries so that parts of the query can be conditional..
For example..
If x>2 do subquery1 else do subquery2

It is also necessary if one is to use in ones query some data not yet available in W|A.
I can use Mathematica 8 and so can many others.
For those who can’t I suggest you explain how to get and use the alternative APIs/Front-ends.
BG Volunteer Curator

Posted by Brian Gilbert February 11, 2011 at 9:41 am

Our houses are made primarily of wood.

In the USA… 🙂

It would be interesting to have W|A evaluate the average % of a given material in the houses of a give country. 😉

Posted by Lazza February 13, 2011 at 8:25 am

cool idea

Posted by Siva Praneeth February 17, 2011 at 2:17 am

It would be most useful to know what kinds of advantages these large caliper trees provide the environment. For example, how much water is absorbed by a tree like a 50 foot tall quercus? What is the gas exchange with the atmosphere and how much? What is the average root structure size relative to the height and caliper of the tree? This would certainly assist those anxious to knock this precious resource down.

Posted by Suzanne Ste. Therese February 24, 2011 at 10:50 pm

I would like to figure out which wood is best for heating. Then I’d be interested in calculating the needed weight of wood to heat some space. Ideally I’d compare different types of wood (fast vs. slow acting) on a graph, to get the ideal efficiency for given space and heat loss.

I can’t get any data for the first query, none of “maple btu” or “maple burning” doesn’t compute. Can you help?

Posted by Andraz K March 18, 2011 at 2:18 pm