March 2021
by Do-While Jones

Tree Database

In 1961, Joseph E. Forrester sold a punched-card system called TREE-SORT which he claimed was “The FASTEST and EASIEST WAY To IDENTIFY and STUDY 260 native and exotic trees of the United States and Canada.” 1 Here is a picture of it:

It came with these instructions:

You just stick a knitting needle through a hole corresponding to a fact, and if the fact is true, the card falls out of the deck. You take the stack of cards that fell out and stick the needle through a different true fact, and more cards fall out. You keep doing this until there is only one card left. The example in the instructions told how to find the Eastern white pine tree card.

This is the back of the Eastern white pine tree card.

Here’s the front of the card.

Ignoring the holes on the right side (which are used for sorting by name), I’ve numbered the holes as if they were bits in a 43-bit binary number. A 43-bit binary number has 17,592,186,044,416 different values. Punched at bits 35, 32, 24, and 0, the Eastern white pine card = 0000000100100000001000000000000000000000001, which corresponds to the decimal number 38,671,482,881. There are 259 other cards in the deck, each of which is punched differently (depending upon number of leaves or needles, seeds, et cetera), representing 259 other 43-bit binary numbers.

Data from 36 of the 260 cards can be downloaded from TreeDatabase.xls or viewed at TreeDatabase.pdf.

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Footnotes:

1 https://www.amazon.com/Tree-sort-pocket-computer-Joseph-Forester/dp/B0007FBLHY