Saturday, February 4, 2017

What's Your Favorite Tree?

What’s your favorite tree?

Scientists estimate about 100,000 tree species on the earth, most of which grow in tropical regions. They say the number of trees worldwide might total twenty-five per cent of all living plant species. So, which is your favorite?

When I was a child in western New York, our back yard boasted a sweeping horse chestnut tree. While the kids in the neighborhood cherished the spiny chestnuts for weaponry in never-ending battles, I enjoyed climbing its wide branches. So sturdy they barely moved in a stiff breeze, they were a great spot to take a book and read on a summery day.

Our family uprooted when I was ten, moving to the Deep South. Our new yard had more than  two hundred slash pines. They’re ideal for making telephone poles and wood pulp, but they couldn’t withstand that first winter's ice storm. When more than two inches of ice coated our world like crystal, over seventy slash pines crashed down in the night. “Weak roots,” diagnosed the community,wielding chainsaws.  

Dad had a running battle with a weeping willow when we moved to Illinois. The graceful, long branches annoyed him no end. Every spring, he’d be out there with his clippers, trying in vain to coax the willow into a maple tree shape.

A few miles from campus in Hawaii stood a marvelous banyan tree, bigger than a city block, with so many branches twined together, holding it fast to the earth, it was hard to tell where roots and branches began or ended.

Mangoes are the most popular fruit on the planet, and to make a mango, you need a mango tree. I’m fond of crisp apples, too; another tree.

The sight of a tall palm tree against a cloudless blue sky calms my soul; that explains the eight-foot mural in our entryway. Ah, palm trees. Okay, they’re herbs, not trees at all, but I like them.

You have to honor the mangroves in Florida, which take their job very seriously. Along with providing protection and habitat for small critters, their roots filter water along the coasts, while harboring small fishes safely among its roots dipped in the shoreline.

And then there are the giant redwoods of northern California.  Standing fully 365 feet tall, it’d take about fifteen adults, holding hands, to encircle the massive trunks. Yet, their roots are only five to fifteen feet deep. The roots of redwoods intertwine, supporting one another.  If a tree is in crisis, say, from a forest fire or insect infestation, its neighbors can send fluid, nourishment, even a form of antibiotics to heal the affected tree.  In one study, gallons of a harmless dye were put into the roots of one redwood, and color showed up four miles away, in two other trees! Redwoods can live up to four hundred years. We can learn a lot from a redwood.

What’s my favorite tree? Maybe it doesn’t matter; maybe just knowing they stand tall, holding each other up in storm or fire is enough to remind me We're not alone, either. In this world of pain, with division all around us, trees stand unmoved. So shall I.

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