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David R. Maddison | The Tree of Life | Systematic Biology 2012, doi: 10.1093/sysbio/sys057 [open access] .

The Tree of Life

  1. David R. Maddison

+ Author Affiliations

  1. Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331 USA; E-mail:

I think that I shall never see

A thing so awesome as the Tree

That links us all in paths of genes

Down into depths of time unseen;

Whose many branches spreading wide

House wondrous creatures of the tide,

Ocean deep and mountain tall,

Darkened cave and waterfall.

Among the branches we may find

Creatures there of every kind,

From microbe small to redwood vast,

From fungus slow to cheetah fast.

As glaciers move, strikes asteroid

A branch may vanish in the void:

At Permian's end and Tertiary's door,

The Tree was shaken to its core.

The leaves that fall are trapped in time

Beneath cold sheets of sand and lime;

But new leaves sprout as mountains rise,

Breathing life anew 'neath future skies.

On one branch the leaves burst forth:

A jointed limb of firework growth.

With inordinate fondness for splitting lines,

Armored beetles formed myriad kinds.

Wandering there among the leaves,

In awe of variants Time conceived,

We ponder the shape of branching fates,

And elusive origins of their traits.

Three billion years the Tree has grown

From replicators' first seed sown

To branches rich with progeny:

The wonder of phylogeny.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.



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