Thursday, July 13, 2017

From my scrapbook :: 3


Talking trees

That trees help us fight climate change has been known for quite some time. They are seen in the role of being carbon stocks and carbon sinks. A report in the periodical “Down to Earth” indicated that scientists are now studying a more fundamental correlation – the direct effects the trees and forests have on climate through rainfall and cooling. The report continued, trees help retain moisture on the ground and produce cooling moisture which directly affects food security and climate change adaptation.

While further research in this regard is continuing, a book “Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohllenben reveals that trees not only can communicate, they can even think and have memories. The author says that forest is a “superorganism’ where “trees communicate and exchange resources      through roots and fungi networks”. Just like an organism they help each other in times of distress. The tree trunk, for instance, vibrates to alert its neighbours in times of water shortages.
Wohllenben goes on to say that trees can also taste, touch, smell, hear and feel just the way animals do. Water molecules are the media through which the tree trunk is made to vibrate just like animals use water molecules to vibrate their vocal chords. As for hearing ability of trees an experiment is reported to have shown that roots of seedlings moved in the direction of the ultrasonic sound waves coming from crackling of roots of other seedlings in the vicinity

Leaves of spruce, beeches and oaks feel pain when they are chewed on. A similar finding was once reported around half a century ago in Readers’ Digest. A lie detector attached to a potted plant made the machine shake violently when a leaf was torn off it. The plant, it seems, had developed the memory as on subsequent days as the researcher (in fact a policeman interested in plant life) would approach the tree to tear off a leaf its heightened distress would progressively be registered on the machine and on tearing off of the leaf it would be most violent. Apparently, as Wohllenben has observed, trees could “learn” and “remember” as exemplified by the mimosa tree that folds its leaves on touch but does not do so when water droplets fall on them regularly – a typical example of learning and remembering.

Another surprising finding was that trees are “social beings” and they can be “sad” and “happy” on the basis of their neighbourhood. Trees socialize largely because it is of advantage to them. A lonely tree cannot create or maintain a consistent local climate. Together, however, they can create a protected environment that shelters them from wind and weather.

Wohlleben goes on to say that isolated trees are “deaf” and “dumb”, having lost their ability to communicate and have a shorter life-span. He also says that trees in planted forests are like “street kids” because their roots are damaged and are incapable of “networking”. Trees surrounded by their “tree parents” live longer and are “happier”. Parents take care of their young ones and even other trees offer help, “nursing” their injured neighbours with nutrients.

The question, obviously raised would be whether trees are intelligent beings. Wohlleben says trees have brain like structures at the root tips which help them decide what to do when they meet an obstruction or face peril of some kind. While a majority of “plant scientists” are skeptical about these findings the contention of the author would seem to be confirmed by the videos of plants growing in dense rain forests rising from the floor avoiding obstruction and, if it happens to be their wont, latching on to another tree and coiling around its trunk or branches.

One might add, the finding of trees' ability to feel pain is not a new discovery. More than 90 years ago Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, an Indian polymath, developed automatic recorders capable of recording extremely slight movements which produced some striking results such as quivering of injured plants. Bose interpreted them as power of feeling in plants. Bose also wrote a book on “The Nervous Mechanism of Plants”.

Trees, hence, are as animate as us who claim to be the “roof and crown” of Creation. We have to have as much regard for them as we have for other living beings and willful destruction of forests should amount to a crime equivalent to downright mass murder.

Mossy Walls

Hyperallergic, a Brooklyn-based blogazine, has reported that the problem regarding air pollution is assuming alarming proportions every day. Around 4.4 million premature deaths occur in the world due to contaminated air that people breathe. India alone accounts for 1.1 million deaths because of the same reason. Things are likely to become worse because of President Trump’s pull out from the Paris Climate Agreement and his decision to put back the coal mine workers to work the neglected coal mines for reviving the coal-fired thermal power stations. Rising number of automobiles are also fouling up the air. This has given fresh impetus to researchers to look for ways to improve the quality of urban air.

One such recent green initiative is the “City Tree” by the Berlin based Green City Solutions. The proposed solution looks quite like the two walls with flowering plants on them that have come up in Bhopal behind Ravindra Bhawan and can be seen as one goes up towards the New Market from the Polytechnic Square. The City Tree is not a tree but a 13 feet tall wall of moss with the possibility of public seating on either side, with solar panels and rain water collectors. It is claimed to have “the same effect as up to 275 urban trees”. With its specific moss cultures with vascular plants that eat particulate matter, nitrogen oxide and ozone, it can offset 240 tons of CO2 per year.

As many as 20 City Trees have already been installed in Paris, Oslo, Hong Kong, Glasgow and Brussels. The progress in planting them is tardy as they do not come cheap – costing around $25000 each. In that kind of money municipal bodies could plant many more roadside hardy
Moss walls in Dresden
trees. This is claimed to be a drawback but there is something in their favour too. There are many areas, even in European towns, where there is no space to plant conventional trees. In such areas City Trees could be of great help, more so as a city’s old areas are more congested generating more automobile emissions. In concrete jungles that are coming up all over our country with no scope for planting trees these moss walls could be of immense help to mitigate effects of air pollution

One wonders in our harsh hot and dry summers whether such mossy walls are suitable solutions. But, while the City Trees will be a greater strain on the human and financial resources of the local bodies, these would, if carefully nurtured, would certainly bring down air pollution in congested areas of our cities. In order to keep the City Trees effective the moss on them will have to be assiduously and carefully taken care of.

*Photos from internet
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