THE WONDER OF TREES | Sunday Observer

THE WONDER OF TREES

There would never be a world without trees nor human beings without them; perhaps deserts with their sand dunes unkind to man and environment. Ever since Eve ate the forbidden fruit of a tree, we are known to have had trees by pollination, self-propagation, seed-dispersal, germination, and some trees being able to reproduce through suckering which is a process that surface roots and send up sprouts that eventually grow into new trees.

All these trees are untouched by man in their growth and reproduction. We know that a tree’s primary function is to grow and reproduce. Central to tree production are cones and flowers. Cones are the reproductive systems of conifer trees and are gymnosperms or seed plants whose seed is not fully enclosed within an ovary. Angiosperms technically mean plants whose seeds are completely enclosed within the angiosperm’s reproductive system. In the plant kingdom, angiosperms are far more prevalent than gymnosperms; there are over 50 more species of flowering trees than of coniferous trees.

POLLINATION

As coniferous and flowering trees use their cones and flowers to produce pollen for fertilisation, they rely on wind, insects, birds and animals to spread their pollen. Trees pollinated by insects tend to produce large-grained, sticky pollen that will stick to the insects. Birds are attracted by brightly coloured flowers.

BANYAN

Native to India and South East Asia, the distinctive-looking, long-lived banyan tree is a sacred tree in both Hinduism and Buddhism and is India’s national tree. The banyan tree starts life as an epiphyte, developing aerial roots that become accessory trunks, and often reaching a great size and covering large areas of ground. The world’s largest banyan tree, in Calcutta’s Botanical Gardens, covers some 1.6 hectares (4 acres) of land. Because of its characteristic, expanding branches, it is a symbol of eternal life. In South Asian villages, large banyan trees, providing much needed shade, were often a meeting place for villagers. The popular name comes about because of the ‘banian’, the Hindu traders wore, who set up their stalls in the shelter of these shady trees.

GERMINATION

Tree seed contains a plant embryo together with food store. When a seed finds a suitable location and if the conditions are right, it will germinate at once, by sending out a root which will instinctively grow downwards.

SEED DISPERSAL

Water is a great carrier of seeds and they have adopted different strategies to spread seeds. Certain trees wrap their seeds inside an appetising fruit so that animals will take away and eat the fruit and spit out the seeds, or so that both seed and fruit will be eaten and passed through the animal’s digestive system. The same applies to birds when small berries or seeds inside palatable fruits such as papaya attract them.

I have always been attracted by trees from my childhood, wading through them, pausing to marvel at their majesty whether in Sri Lanka or abroad getting lost in the woods, and watching the sun peep through them has left a lasting impression in my life. As I grew up, I honoured them lyrically in hundreds of published poems as no other and went on to write and publish a book titled THE SPLENDOUR OF TREES, in all about Sri Lankan trees, well received

by critics. Today, I have turned around to pay homage to four selected trees from around the world that have fascinated me. They are gorgeous and enchanting as you can see.

COAST REDWOOD

The world’s tallest living tree, nicknamed the ‘Stratosphere Giant’ is a majestic coast redwood growing in California, which in 2004 measured 112.8m (370ft). Its precise location remains a secret in order to protect the tree. A slow-growing tree, the coast redwood can reach not only great height but also great age, being able to live for over 2,000 years. The thick, tannin-rich bark protects the coastal redwoods from insects and also makes them resistant to forest fire. Coastal redwood timber, however, was valued for its lightness and beauty and intensive logging during the nineteenth century saw the destruction of many old-growth redwoods. Today these long-lived giants of the natural world are found only on a narrow strip of land in America, restricted to 72 groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, California.

SUGAR MAPLE

North America’s largest maple is famous as the source of maple syrup, which is made from the sap of this large, attractive tree. It is Canada’s national tree, with a bright red maple leaf adorning the country’s flag. Tapping the maple for its sap was a process known to the Native Americans and subsequently the North American settlers. The maple tree can withstand the process of tapping, in which gallons of its sap are drained away. The tapping process takes place during late winter to early spring and one tree can produce several gallons. However, 182 litres (40 gallons) of sap are needed to produce 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of maple syrup, hence its high cost. In addition to its valuable sap, the sugar maple is prized for its fine timber. With its striking autumn colours, it is also planted in parks and gardens for ornamental reasons.

PECAN

 

A member of the of the hickory family native to North America’s southern states, the pecan tree is USA’s best-known native nut. The name pecan comes from the Algonquin Indian paccan. The kernel of the nut, housed in a characteristic smooth, red-brown, thin shell, resembles that of a walnut, but has a sweeter, milder, buttery flavour. A significant breakthrough in cultivating pecans came about in 1845 when Antoine, an African-American slave gardener, successfully grafted wild pecans onto cultivated stock, increasing productivity.

The commercial cultivation of pecans began in North America in the 1880s and there are now hundreds of varieties. Today, the USA produces between 80-95 percent of the world’s pecan crop, though it is also cultivated in other countries, including Australia and South Africa. The nuts are much used in confectionery and desserts, most famously in pecan pie.

 

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