There’s a certain point, as you drive west on the motorway from Sydney, Australia, where your eyes are greeted with a blue vista on the horizon.
You are not seeing the ocean, but some of the trees in the 1.03 million hectares that make up the Greater Blue Mountains Area. The magic in these trees is so strong it can change the colour of the landscape, covering their green canopy with a blue-grey haze.
The eucalypts which dominate the mountain forests discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves. The mist refracts light, which makes the haze look blue from a distance.
Even now, after living in this natural wonderland for 30 years, the sight of that blue on the horizon puts a smile on my face when I am returning home.
It’s as if the trees themselves are calling to me. Perhaps they are.
Scientists have been able to listen to the noises made by thirsty trees. They are ultrasonic pops, 100 times faster than what a human ear can hear. Did you read my post, Talk to the Trees – They Just Might Answer?
Research is showing that trees communicate with each other too. Not only can they differentiate between the damage caused by a hungry animal nibbling their leaves and damage the wind may cause, but they can also protect themselves and alert their friends to the danger.
The trees can detect the animal’s saliva on their leaves and sometimes even hear when an insect or animal is munching on them. This prompts them to produce bad-tasting tannins to discourage more feasting.
The trees send volatile organic compounds into the air which are detected by other plants growing nearby. They too produce the bad-tasting tannins to protect themselves.
When damage is caused to the leaves by wind, instead of producing the tannins, trees produce wound hormones to help heal themselves.
THE WOOD WIDE WEB
Current research is focusing on how trees communicate using what is being called a ‘wood’ wide web.
The fungi that grow around the base of trees is being referred to as ‘Earth’s natural internet’.
These fungi are made up of a mass of thin threads, known as mycelium. They link the roots of different plants, connecting them like the internet connects people.
Trees are able to transfer carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus to each other via the mycelium.
Scientists believe that mature trees help out the younger saplings by using this fungal internet.
Trees also use the web to communicate. Plants attacked by harmful fungi release chemical signals into the mycelia that warn their neighbours.
In his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, forester Peter Wohlleben claims that trees form friendships, have families, have memories and make decisions. This book, full of wonderment, documents Wohlleben’s observations of various trees and how he uncovers some of their secrets and magic.
It is not only trees’ secrets that make them magical.
In fact, their most magical role could be the one they are best known for, as the ‘lungs of the planet’.
They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, provide shade, shelter and food for countless creatures, help to reduce temperatures and help to filter water before it reaches rivers and oceans.
THE MAGIC OF TREES AND OUR HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
The more research, the more it becomes apparent our relationship and dependency on trees go beyond what they do for us physically.
Studies have shown that being in their presence can make us happier and mentally healthier.
As Beverley Golden points out in her article, Nature Can Heal Humanity, forest bathing is now a recognised health benefit. In fact, forest therapy is now covered under Japan’s medical insurance schemes.
It is believed spending time with trees can also help children learn important life skills.
In the lead up to this year’s National Tree Day (Australia, July 30) its organiser, Planet Ark, commissioned research into what teachers considered to be the key elements of learning for children to prepare them for the challenges they will face in the future.
The majority of teachers considered critical thinking, problem-solving and grit (determination, persistence and motivation) as well as emotional intelligence to be the weakest traits in today’s students.
These are vital skills in a world where innovators will be called on to help save the planet.
Clinical Psychologist Kirrilie Smout, the director of Developing Minds Psychology and Education, agrees.
She has worked with kids and teens for 20 years and says the challenges for them will be different from what society has encountered in the past.
And these challenges will not be solved by following predetermined “rules”. We have all the information we need – but information alone is not going to help us. We are going to need future generations to scan information quickly, try new approaches, think flexibly and independently to create new solutions to new problems in the future.
THE MAGIC OF TREES FOR LEARNING
Planet Ark members believe more time spent in nature could enhance these skills and they are not alone in that thinking.
Naturalist, conservationist, award-winning nature photographer and publisher Steve Parish claims nature connection is the single most important issue of our time.
Humans have always been hardwired to nature; although too many of us see ourselves as separate from the natural world.
Parish describes trees as the planetary icon for nature and says they are a life-centre for our mental, spiritual and physical well-being.
It never ceases to amaze me of the parallels and life lessons we can learn from trees like the tenacity of a windswept tree growing on a cliff top, the resilience and durability of a tree like the Moreton Bay fig with its enormous prop root system or the determination of a tiny seed that grows into a giant ghost gum soaring amongst the tallest trees in the world. Through focus and sheer grit, we too can surmount barriers, break through fears to attain aspirations well beyond our wildest dreams.
Given all the valuable lessons we can learn from trees, it’s sad to note nearly one in three Australian children have never planted one.
WHEN CHILDREN DON’T SEE THE MAGIC OF TREES
Several months ago we decided to visit a nearby shopping centre that was hosting a night time street food fair.
A couple of the Goddesses and their parents met us there to join in the feasting and fun entertainment.
As I walked around the fair, hand in hand with one of the Goddesses, she pointed to an area filled with happy children playing in the dark and said she wanted to join them.
When we came closer to the area I noticed the kids were playing around a big tree. They were running and screaming with delight. On closer inspection, I saw they were also ripping the branches off the tree and using the sticks to play with.
Not content with stripping the tree of its branches, the children started pulling the bark and leaves off the tree.
I could feel the tears fill my eyes. I told the Goddess I didn’t want her to play with those children because they were being so mean to the tree.
She asked what I meant. It was only a tree. I asked her how she would feel if someone started to pull her arm really hard.
“We don’t know how that tree is feeling honey because we can’t hear it,” I said.
I quickly took her away from the area. I wanted to speak up on behalf of the tree. It was clear this particular group of parents would not have appreciated my interference. And I had my granddaughter by my side.
PROMOTING LOVE AND RESPECT FOR NATURE’S (ALMOST) SILENT MAGICIANS
The flip side of this is a beautiful story told by Krishnamurti in his book, Krishnamurti’s Notebook.
A little boy in red trousers and in a red coat was playing by himself under a large, spreading tree; there was no one near him, he was by himself, lost in his own world; he must have been five or six, with a happy round face; his eyes were almost closed and he was going round and round the tree, in a widening circle, talking to himself with an occasional posture. He stopped all of a sudden, looked up the tree, came back to the large, rough trunk and touched it softly, almost caressing it and started running back to his house; he stopped, looked back at the tree, waved his hand and disappeared behind a gate. The tree and the little boy must have been great friends; he was completely at home with it, completely happy. The tree heavy with dark, bright leaves and the red suit were beautiful in the morning light. It was an enchanting morning and they were both part of the morning, like that flower and the sky…
To give our children the benefits of nature, we have to allow them the time and space to enjoy it. But we also need to teach them to have respect for it.
This year mark’s National Tree Day’s 22nd anniversary. During those years, more than 3.8 million volunteers have planted more than 23 million trees, shrubs and grasses across Australia.
MORE WAYS TO HONOUR THE MAGIC OF TREES
More than half of the world’s native forests have been destroyed.
There are some things we can do to stop this trend.
- Spend more time outdoors and encourage our children to love and respect nature.
- Reuse sheets of paper – use the blank side for children’s drawings, shopping lists and notes.
- Buy recycled paper.
- Recycle all paper.
- Place a ‘no junk mail’ sign on our mailboxes to discourage the production of advertising brochures.
- Be mindful of the coconut and palm oil products we buy – clearing forests to plant palms is happening on a huge scale. Look for sustainable, fair trade and ethical brands.
- Buy more Brazil nuts. The bees that pollinate Brazil nut trees rely on a rare species of orchids, which only grow in natural forests. No bees means no pollination which means no fruit in the trees. A higher demand for Brazil nuts will encourage keeping our natural forests alive and well.
- Above all, plant trees. 100 trees are bulldozed for every one that is planted. People are working to counter this though. Last year, more than 800,000 volunteers in India planted nearly 50 million trees in just one day.
Happy planting and have a gleeful week, Tamuria.