The poet Joyce Kilmer wrote: “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.” Let’s take a few moments today to reflect on the wonder, beauty, and poetry of trees.
First, what is a tree? Botany defines a tree as “a perennial plant with an elongated stem or trunk supporting branches and leaves in most species.” Trees have been around for 370 million years. (In contrast, we lowly humans have been around for only 200,000 years!) The trunk of a tree contains woody tissue for strength and vascular tissue that carries materials from one part of the tree to another. Bark serves as a protective barrier. That’s why to carve LJ loves KD into the bark of a tree is a big “no no.” Beneath the ground, roots branch out widely to anchor the tree in place and enable the tree to extract moisture and nutrients from the soil. I know, sometimes these roots invade our drain tiles, but remember, the tree is only looking for a drink.
Above ground the tree branches out into smaller and smaller shoots. These shoots sprout leaves which capture light from the sun and convert it into sugar through a process called photosynthesis. Sugar is the tree’s food. That’s right: Trees make their own food! Amazing! They never have to go to a grocery store! So vital is this process of photosynthesis to all life on earth, that my college biology teacher, Sister Hubert, used to say to us, “Now, ladies, I am here to tell you that love does not make the world go round. Photosynthesis does!”
Trees play a significant role on planet earth for other reasons too. They reduce erosion, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (and slow down global warming), provide habitat for animals and other plants, provide shade, shelter, and wood for construction, cooking, and heat. Little wonder that from ancient times people have revered trees for their longevity, beauty, and usefulness.
Most trees reproduce via seeds in all kinds of shapes and sizes. But the problem is, they have to get the seeds away from the shade of the
parent tree so the seeds have a chance to sprout and grow. And since trees can’t walk, they have devised ingenious ways to spread their seeds away from the parent tree. Some of their seeds have papery wings to aid in their dispersion by the wind. One tree, the flame tree, actually shoots its seeds when its seed pods explode in the heat. Other trees, such as apple and plum, encase their precious seeds in a fleshy and often tasty fruit. When this fruit is eaten by animals (including humans) the seeds are either discarded or they pass through the gut and are deposited away from the tree. Some trees sprout nuts which animals eat either immediately or store for later use. Lucky for trees, animals such as squirrels often forget where they’ve buried their nuts and, in time, these nuts can germinate. As you can tell, the chances of a particular seed becoming another tree are slim. Hence trees produce a huge number of seeds. A typical healthy oak, for example, produces 70,000 acorns a year!
Trees supply us with a wide variety of foods. The next time you indulge in or cook with any of these, be sure to thank the tree from which it came: apple, orange, mango, grapes, walnut, anything chocolate, olive oil, hazelnut coffee, vanilla anything, lemon, maple syrup, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, sassafras oil. About 120 medicinal drugs come from plants, many of them trees: quinine, aspirin, and some anti-cancer drugs. Other tree products include resin, latex, and camphor.
The following trees are exceptional. And they all reside in California. The tallest tree in the world is a giant redwood in California named Hyperion. It is 379 feet tall (115.6 meters). The tree that is the largest by volume is a sequoia named General Sherman. And the oldest living tree is a bristle pine cone tree. It is (drum roll please) 5,066 years old! Imagine, that tree was already well 3,000 years old when Jesus walked the dusty roads of Galilee!
Do you notice trees? Do you ever talk to them or hug them? When I’m driving and spot a perfectly formed tree along the side of the road, I often say aloud, “Oh, you are sooo beautiful!” When I’m walking in the park, I often gently finger a tree’s bark. Do you have a favorite tree? In my book, When the Rain Speaks, I devote the first chapter to the huge ash tree that grew in our yard when I was a child. I wrote: “When I recall that ash tree, these images come effortlessly to mind: friend, playmate, confidant, shelter, sage, nanny, grandfather, and even God.”
The song I chose is a “The Tree Song,” a children’s song by Evie Karlsson. I hope you enjoy the song and the many pictures of incredible trees. Since the lyrics are not with the video, I’ve copied the chorus here:
I’ve got roots growing down to the water.
I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine.
And the fruit that I bear is a sign of life in me.
I am shade from the hot summer sun-down.
I am nest for the birds of the heaven.
I’m becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be,
A strong young tree.