As the title suggests, Drori’s book covers trees growing all over the world, from Siberia, to Southeast Asia, and from Europe to the Americas. The brief essays have been characterized as “biographies” of and “love letters” to his examples. Each contains information both educational and fascinating. Perhaps the best way to proceed is to provide examples.
• The piece on the Dutch Elm understandably focuses on the disease that so devastated that species. We learn that the trees were attacked by a type of fungus borne in by beetles that bored through the bark—new information to me and something I find somewhat analogous to the way malaria is spread to humans by mosquitoes. Even more revelatory was the fact that the most plentiful survivors can be found in Holland of all places. The most interesting point of all is that botanists have developed a treatment: they actually inoculate healthy, young elms with a less harmful fungus that stimulates the trees’ defensive systems to resist the lethal version. Sound familiar? How alike are the many varied forms of life!
• In turns of durability and survival in challenging climates, I award the place of honor to the Siberian (or Dahurian) Larch, which thrives in the eponymous land where temperatures range from 100 degrees Fahrenheit down to minus 85 degrees. People live there as well, but usually with some shelter and fur, and a chance to get their feet off the permafrost!
• We learn that the Fig has been cultivated for over 4,000 years and that the Wild Apple was being developed by grafting techniques in Mesopotamia from around 1,800 B.C.
• That discussion sparks a reminder about how much of the world’s food supply comes from trees, some quite unexpectedly. Take for example, the Mopane tree in South Africa, and its like-named worm. The worms feast on the leaves to the point of a 4000-fold weight gain. Yet the trees survive, refoliate and continue to thrive. The worms in turn are a popular food for people there, who consume “thousands of tons” of them, as they are nutritional (60% protein) and apparently not bad when fried.
• Finally, two other trees’ stories repeat a theme that has become quite important to me—the interconnectedness of disparate forms of life—how symbiosis is so fundamental to the survival of so many living things. The Silver Birch has a root system that interconnects with mycorrhizal fungi, which extend the trees’ reach for nutrients, which the fungi pass on to the roots in a digestible form; for which the trees then return sugars to fungi for their nutrition. As an interesting aside, the species also partners with a form of toadstool the produces hallucinogens used by some Siberian tribes in shamanistic rituals. At last, there is the Whistling Thorn of eastern Africa, the thorns of which are connected to bulbous, thistle like protuberances that are both hollow and have small holes. They also carry a nectar that is a particular favorite of a species of biting ants. When disturbed, as air blows through the holes, the bulbs whistle, which in turn summons the ants to sally forth in a protective swarm against whatever is consuming their favorite food. The ants then exude distress pheromones which summon even more ants as reinforcements and the larger, feeding animal is harassed sufficiently to flee.
As with some of my previous readings, and as alluded to earlier, almost all of these readings on plants and trees reveal the miracle and complexity of nature. A major aspect of that complexity is the interdependence of so many forms of life, from fungi, to humankind, all linked through the plant world, which itself has its own intelligent adaptations. As we marvel at nature, may we also respect it and protect it.
So we have toured the world of trees, not just in this Drori’s well written and recommended volume, but in earlier reviews. It is time to return home and enjoy and admire the trees in our own backyard of Bedrock Gardens. Herewith, I turn the article over to Jill Nooney.
And that is what we did.
When you have gardened in one place for forty years, you become a part of it both as an observer and a participant and the acute anguish of losing these twin maples gets softened into the swelling and receding of a low chorus always singing and reminding me that we are all just passing through.