When we think about plants and trees, there is a tendency to think of them as “slow” things. After all, you can stare at a plant all day and you will probably not see it budge a millimeter. And yet, when you walk away from a plant and come back a week later, you will often observe change.
Believe it or not, some trees and plants grow really fast, and can put on substantial height within just a few short years. What are the fastest growing trees? Let’s take a look at some of the fastest growing plants on the planet.
Bamboo grows incredibly quickly, which is one reason it is often used to make sustainable, eco-friendly products. Re-planting bamboo is fairly easy thanks to the swift growth rate of the plant. The spreading root structure allows one rootstock to produce several shoots, permitting horizontal growth.
Some species can literally grow 10 centimeters per day! If you actually had the patience to sit there all day, you would notice the growth by the end of it.
2. Hybrid poplar.
This species of poplar is a popular shade tree. It only takes about five years to grow poplars to harvestable height, making them popular in industry applications as well (lumber, etc.). Hybrid poplars can put on ten feet a year. Not as impressive as the bamboo, but not bad! This is just one of the artificially created species on our list, and not even the fastest growing one.
Algae are very fast growing eukaryotes (they are plantlike, but not technically plants; they are actually quite hard to classify), and are found all over the world. They grow so quickly that they sometimes “bloom.” Algae blooms can be dangerous for sea life (they pull all the oxygen out of the water), and some types of algae bloom such as red tide can even be toxic to human health.
This small, flowering plant is one which also grows very quickly. Every 30 hours, the species can undergo an entire life cycle. If a duckweed were able to reproduce continuously at maximum efficiency, it would theoretically be able to create four Earth-sized masses of duckweed inside of just four months. How amazing is that?
5. Eastern Cottonwood
This species of tree may be the fastest growing tree in North America. In some locations it can put on a good 10-15 feet per year, and can often do so for several years in a row. It can continue to put on 5 feet per year even after this phase is completed, and may do so for around a quarter of a century.
6. Giant Sequoia
Sequoia trees are best known for their mammoth size, but they are also very fast growing. They can put on 4-6 feet per year for around 10 years, and then can keep adding on around 2 feet per year for the next 30. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that the sequoia can continue to pack on the girth each year. One famous tree, the “General Sherman Tree,” was measured by researchers, who calculated that it had added three inches to its girth in 40 years. Before you say, “That’s not a whole lot,” consider the height of a giant sequoia tree multiplied by that girth increase. That’s a lot of wood, and reminds us that trees grow outward and not just upward.
Acacia can be an impressively fast growing tree. One acacia falcate tree which was planted in Sabah, Malaysia, managed to put on an astounding 35 feet of height in just 13 months, which comes out to just over an inch per day. Trees like the acacia which are located in tropical climates are able to get plenty of nutrition and rainfall throughout the year, which allows them to experience a perpetual growing season.
8. Wisconsin Fast Plants
This trademarked strain of field mustard grows so quickly it has actually been marketed as “fast plants.” Every five weeks, it can produce a brand new generation. Wisconsin Fast Plants were developed by agricultural researchers at the University of Wisconsin.
This is an incredibly fast-growing plant which can add a whole foot a day, and under prime conditions, may add a whole 60 feet in a single growing season! This form of Japanese arrowroot is considered quite a pest. It climbs over everything and is very hard to kill. Along its way, it tends to kill other plants. It is considered extremely aggressive and invasive, and while it is native to Japan, it has spread to other locations throughout the word, including the US.
10. Transgenic Eucalyptus
Another artificially developed plant on our list is transgenic eucalyptus, developed by splicing brassica genes with eucalyptus genes. These trees grow 30% faster than other types of natural eucalyptus, and can add 16 feet a year. Within just five years, some plants may manage to top 100 feet. Trees like the transgenic eucalyptus are praised by some, while others warn that species like this could easily overtake the planet much like the naturally invasive kudzu. The long term ecological ramifications of manufactured fast-growing plants like the eucalyptus are impossible to imagine or predict at this point of time.
Trees and plants may seem like they’re living life in the slow lane compared to us bipedal animals—but not all plants are as slow as you might think. What is the fastest growing tree? It is tough to name any one specific plant, but the acacia, cottonwood, sequoia, and transgenic eucalyptus are all strong contenders. Other plant species like duckweed and kudzu can also spread dramatically. Fast growing trees and plants make great resources for industry, because they can lead to sustainable harvesting, but fast growing plants can also turn quickly into invasive pests when they get out of control. This is why it is wise for researchers to be cautious when breeding and splicing to create new life forms. Fast-growing plants may help agriculturalists to preserve the environment—but they might also pose an environmental hazard.