13 January 2012

Peter's Tree Logic

'They're very clever, trees are,' says Nick at Brooke Hall. I am inclined to agree. Why else would they bend towards the water, their branches just skimming the top, as though looking for a drink? And when they grow on a steep bank, the upper storey spreading normally, the lower branches reaching down towards the water, filling the whole space with tree... That's clever, or intuitive, or artistic, isn't it?

I am hoping, once again, that Peter will give me a magical, incomprehensible reason why this is so. But where science doesn't provide an answer, there is always logic. To the non-scientific and stubbornly anti-logical mind this can be deflating.

'Answer: deer,' says Peter. 'They will get on their hind legs and eat everything in sight.'
And that is why trees in the country are very rarely seen with their leaves reaching the ground. Except holly of course.

Where water is involved, you may see trees growing out of it, for instance in a large reservoir like Eyebrook in Rutland. The trees were there before the land was flooded. The lower branches in reservoir trees and those growing by streams and rivers do not dip below the water as the leaves would not be able to photosynthesise.
 'The growth line reaches down to the highest level of a flood,' says Peter. Green shoots submerged in flood water do not live very long.

Sensible trees. And is it a primal instinct to reach over towards water, like the one pictured above?
Peter's answer is - more logic.
 'Which way is the prevailing wind?'
 Who knows about prevailing winds: many people don't know which direction is North. Even some gardeners. I start to wail.
'But I want trees to have feelings, that's the problem!'
Peter briskly responds, sounding like a grammar school teacher in an unheated classroom.
'They don't.'


  1. Since our feelings are turning out to be a matter of nerve endings and hormones, perhaps trees do have feelings, slow imperceptible ones in ways or about things that have not occurred to us. Perhaps springtime is a feeling, or winter.

    1. I love that.
      Is springtime a feeling? Discuss.
      (Yes! of course!)

  2. I quite like the logic of feeling. I like to think they feel and think and move just like we do, just on a much much slower scale. Unlike the apple trees in the Wizard of Oz, real trees move at the pace of the earth, not humans.

    Peter has a few things to learn from you as well.

    1. The trees are arguably the most unsettling thing in The Wizard of Oz - they're angry!
      Will be delighted to pass on your last comment.

  3. Remind Peter that the woodland trees in Tennessee groan and sigh in the bitter cold wind, just like he does. Trees are logical too.

    1. It is strange how a few words make one think a lot, and your correspondents to your blog certainly did that with me.
      Plants have a raft of hormones which make them "do" various things. There are auxins which promote root growth, things which make them know which is "up" and "down", things to make them grow, and things to make them stop growing. There is a fluid transport system, the phloem, and xylem, and the hormone chemicals can move around pretty quickly making their movement seem almost animal-like. Examples where this takes place are the Venus fly-trap, and the sensitive plant, mimosa pudica, amongs many.

      As to the plant's feelings or not, that is another matter. We have to examine the mechanisms of ours first. The simple biochemical/neurological one is that electrical stimuli from nerves promote the creation of endorphins in the brain which gives higher animals a sense of well being.

      But the jury is out on this. As a hard-boiled scientist I am the first to admit we do not know everything, (let alone the Higgs Boson, or those speedy neutrinos arriving before they set off). Does biodynamics really work, and is a well grown plant telling us something. The Buddhists think so, their temples are stuffed full of the most magnificent plants. If they really have feelings, what do they feel as we chop them up to cook, put them on the compost heap, or behead them as we hoe our plots? I think we do well to "consider the lily in the field", our feelings to them, and maybe their feelings to us.