What is a tree?
It’s one of those woody looking green things, you remember they bring green to your background during summer months but slip away into obscurity in winter. They are tall and don’t seem to move unless the wind makes them, they grow but so slowly we almost forget and despite their size are in fact very inconspicuous.
This the most obvious way in which their value as an aesthetic asset in built up towns and cities comes to life, go and walk around where you live and take notice of the trees. Find differences between them and similarities, discover how leaves can change shape, how bark has a variety of colours and how each form is unique to the last.
Trees represent the impulsive need of plants to compete for light, wood reveals the extent to which the biological process will go to achieve this end. It is supportive, porous, both dead and alive all the while representing some of nature’s most robust defensive capable of fighting off any number of potential threats.
Leaves are each complex factories in which energy is harvested, where transpiration creates the vacuum needed for the roots to act as straws, drawing liquid and nutrients from the soil. The winter bud encases next year’s leaves, empty and packed into the perfect habitat to survive the harsh weather to come, chemical signal await activation as the sun wanes in the sky.
Spring arrives they awake and we are left with an uplifting feeling, behind the everyday they sit and always have, their ability to be loved is very subconscious but it is most missed in the darkest days of the year as they stand asleep. Watch your horizons, remember that city life detracts from the need to look beyond what is right in front of you because when we do, on the train, the bus or justt wandering around we notice beauty and appreciate it, imagine your view without the trees.
I have been lucky enough to have spent a good deal of time with trees, under trees and within trees, sometimes through work but most importantly, because I am grounded around a tree. Studying biology, the various forms in which life is expressed is incredible and all elements of the natural world blow my mind but I feel the voice of trees is quieter than it should be because look closer and you find they have a lot to offer.
We actually don’t know a great deal about them compared with many other aspects of biology, there is a discipline called Arboriculture that has grown up out of forestry over the past decades that focuses on the culture/science of trees. It takes in parts of forestry, biology, tree surgery, tree health and management while modern research rapidly increasing our understanding of these dynamic organisms.
This increase in interest is more than justified by the need to better engineer our living spaces to be inclusive of nature and ecosystems that provide services merely through their existence. Trees provide a front line for nature, their towering presence is not easily ignored and their surroundings often represent islands of the natural process where other plants, animals and insects can take refuge.
Some species easily regrow themselves, especially in the UK where some areas are exposed to brutal winds and bad weather, here in the Northwest, a single standing tree rarely makes it beyond 300 years but that doesn’t mean this is the limit of their lifespan. So long as their roots remain intact, these anchoring life givers can simply regrow and entire tree from scratch, they can do this endlessly like the phoenix rising from he ashes.
So what is there to learn from this and all the other behaviours they represent? Well for one they always reach for the light, the with bend, shift, brake and compete for this end but they are relentless in their aim. They are grounded, rooted deep and standing strong they teach us the value of nurturing our foundations, without strength in our roots we face a challenging future, we risk unsureness, confusion and being overwhelmed.
They cannot move, their lot in life is decided entirely by their environment, yet they are content, growing and appreciating what has been given to them and making the most of that the way we must appreciate and make the most of what we Do have. They are strong, solid and unyielding in the face of adversity, standing head on to mean the storm and winds blow, dissipating the gale upon an intricately designed canopy, shaking off the assault.
In many woodlands the relationship between one tree and another is only now being explored, in America a forest of trembling aspen is said to be up to 80 thousand years old, no single stem being a part of that however. As mentioned above the roots are where the storage and retention of life remains and in this example it has remained for millennium intimately linked through fungal pathways it has become one giant organism.
Under stress they will shore up their weakest points, sending valuable resources to where they are needed not part of the tree is left behind. Countless forms have given rise to species that vary from climbing vines to towering redwoods, all very similar ways of life yet entirely different. These are but some of what trees are doing, right now as you sit reading this their secrets remain hidden, when you get the chance and remember to do so, take in the site of a tree, search out the most interesting ones and go for a walk in the wood.
This is my final year studying trees as it is the final year of my degree, I am looking at them from many different angles and have done so for more than seven years now. It is my hope that my blogs will follow that journey and perhaps a small documentary on the subject of my dissertation which involves a surviving species, lingering defiantly within a semi-ancient woodland. Trees have a lot to teach if you are willing to learn, as is true with all of the natural world, biology shows each of this, engage with what we are because for all we have achieved it is still a mystery of madness and amazement.