May 17, 2010

Trees As Teachers

Trees deserve to have their stories collected. You are welcome to enter your own tree and its story.  A new tree story will be featured on this site every week. Thank you for your interest in the tree stories of the world!

May 6, 2011

Kenjiro Matsuo’s Wooden Xylophone in a Forest

April 29, 2011

Week 14: Quercus

This Arbor Day, consider cutting down a tree.  Not any tree, but any Bay Laurel within 50 paces of a Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia), Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii) or Tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus).  The tree of the week is the oak, Quercus.

William Bryant Logan writes that oaks are seen in almost all the varying climates where people have settled, and loom large in the imaginationРfrom heritage oaks in Asia and the Americas to the talking Oak of Zeus and the groves of the Druids in Europe. An oak figures in John Steinbeck’s strange novel, To a God Unknown.  Without giving too much away, the protagonist’s life is abruptly changed when his brother girdles a guardian oak at the homestead near Monterey.  We read that he could sense it immediately.  The book doesn’t seem nearly so odd if you’ve witnessed Sudden Oak Death (SOD).

When Sudden Oak Death afflicts at tree, a few leaves turn tan and then the whole tree may die within a month. The oak will show a girdle of dead tissue beneath the bark. The pathogen probably came in on rhododendron nursery plants to Marin County fifteen years ago or so. The alga, Phytophthora ramorum, is spread by airborne spore dispersal.

Unfortunately, the California Bay Tree is a vector for Sudden Oak Death. Its leaves act as a nursery for the pathogen in damp weather.  The Phytophthora ramorum spores are then blown to the leaves of susceptible oaks.  Right now there are a few studies underway trying to prevent SOD from becoming another American chestnut blight or Dutch elm disease epidemic.

Historically,  oaks have been crucial for diet and shelter. Hundreds of species of birds and animals depend on native oak habitats.

Sudden Oak Death

William Bryant Logan. Oak: The Frame Of Civilization. New York: W.W. Norton &    Company, Inc., 2005.

John Steinbeck. To a God Unknown. New York: Penguin Press, 1995.

“There are currently several ongoing sudden oak death research projects on District land conducted in partnership with scientists from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, the US Forest Service and Phytosphere Research. These studies attempt to identify tanoak trees that are genetically resistant to SOD, prevent infection of large specimen trees, and determine whether the use of Agri-Fos, coupled with selective California bay tree removal, is effective in protecting select specimen trees and large stands of oaks from sudden oak death”

March 29, 2011

Blue trees, for now.

Read about it:

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March 17, 2011

Contemplation and Trees: Bonsai

Note: A friend in Japan, now safe in Kobe, writes us that a useful place to send donations is the U.S.-Japan Council Earthquake Relief Fund All donations go to local relief. They thank you.

The oldest living tree is a Norway Spruce in Dalarna, Sweden(1).¬† At 9500 years, it‚Äôs older that the Bristlecones in the mountains in California.¬† Yet it looks just like a tree you would pass on at a Christmas tree lot — only the root stock is ancient.

Time and Shaping: When trees in the wild are shaped by wind –or by other trees falling on them, by poison oak wrapping tightly around them–¬† a record of time and growth is formed that is more apparent to us than the slow circles of tree rings.

Most people have seen bonsai trees and have probably wondered about the human hands that have helped shape them.  According to Taoist thought, Yin and Yang forces are found in each tree. These opposing powers of the universe are glimpsed in the small straight branches and the twisted ones, the shiny light bark and the soft dark, the leaves throughout the seasons.

In southwest China fengshui stands for the interaction of yin and yang and represents a power that affects the world and everything in it. Fengshui may be found especially in strange and awe-inspiring trees and stones. The contemplation of these powers or the active cultivation of trees to enhance their spiritual force, as in the Japanese art of bonsai, builds gentleness of character, religious spirit, and respect for humankind.
“Trees”. Pamela R. Frese and S. J. M. Gray Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 14. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p 9333-9340.

Wrapped by vines

1. According to the National Geographic, 2008. (Based on root dating.)

February 28, 2011

Trees from above

Schools of trees–Why the evergreen coniferous tree?

Gerco de Ruijter sends us best wishes from Rotterdam, and two amazing photos of his work.

# 20 by Gerco de Ruijter, 28" x 28", from Baumschule (2008-2010), courtesy of the artist)

At least in Europe and the US, many people think that if Christianity has a tree, it must be an evergreen conifer. Not even on the list. Try the myrtle, the palm, cypress, olive or the cedar of Lebanon, dogwood, mesquite, ash, oak, or maybe the willow.(1)  No pines or spruces.

In some parts of the United States, conifers are cut for Christmas leaving at least three branches at the base.¬† The tree will regrow over a period of several years. The United States Department of Agriculture’s 2002 census shows that over twenty-thousand farms were producing conifers for the cut Christmas tree market in America: 447,006 acres (180,897¬†hectares) were planted in Christmas trees. But why?

In 1584, the German pastor and chronicler Balthasar Russow wrote of a tradition of setting up a decorated spruce at the market square where the young men ‚Äúwent with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame‚ÄĚ.[2]

Fire is a theme in these tales of trees that don’t drop all their leaves before the dark days of winter.¬† Purportedly in Norway, the Jul log was an entire tree that was shoved into the fireplace,¬† extending into the room. The story is that as it burned watchful people would it would keep pushing it in farther. We’re fact-checking this one.¬† There are many stories on the origin of the Yule tree, and doubtless more will emerge with careful scholarship.

In Gerco de Ruijter’s photographs, shorn, tended trees become an abstraction, not unlike the aluminum and plastic trees decorated with electric light.¬† Yet this analogy is misleading, because even if trees are planted on grid lines, they still form a living community, as de Ruijter’s work shows.¬† Karl J. Niklas has stated that communities of¬† plants are highly integrated organisms that respond to their environments in ways “that are every bit as complex as even the most sophisticated animals.” (3)

Let’s let Gerco de Ruijte have the last word:

Even though this series ‚ÄúBaumschule‚ÄĚ deals with an extremely defined cultural landscape, it (is) the abnormalities that jump into view. The presence of all of these objects arranged to form rows creates a new form of abstraction, not because of the image‚Äôs emptiness but, to the contrary, because of the presence of so many ‚Äúthings‚ÄĚ, and their patterns and rhythms.

Funny, the irregularities in the patterns cause the viewer to once again notice nature…

1. Pamela R. Frese and S. J. M. Gray. Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 14. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. p9333-9340.¬†¬† Palm branches are associated with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The myrtle, the symbol of virginity, is naturally associated with the Virgin, as are the palm, cypress, and the olive tree (symbolizing peace, heaven, and hope). The cedar of Lebanon, dogwood, mesquite, ash, and oak are all identified as the wood of¬† the Cross. Willows and cedar grow in cemeteries reminding visitors of death and everlasting life.

(2) Christmas Tree. Accessed Feb 28, 2011.

(3) Karl J. Niklas, Edward D. Cobb. Ontogenetic changes in the numbers of short- vs. long-shoots account for decreasing specific leaf area in Acer rubrum (Aceraceae) as trees increase in size. American Journal of Botany, 2010; 97 (1): 27 DOI: 10.3732/ajb.0900249

Further reading:

Karas, Sheryl Ann. The Solstice Evergreen: History, Folklore, and Origins of the Christmas Tree. 1990; reprint, Fairfield, Conn., 1998.

Kathleen Stokker. Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land. Minnesota Historical Society Press (October 2000).

# 10 by Gerco de Ruijter, 28" x 28", from Baumschule (2008-2010), courtesy of the artist

February 13, 2011

Week 13: The Sycamore

Sally from Palo Alto alerted us to “Moon Trees.” ¬†In the crush-on-space years, these were¬†grown from hundreds of seeds orbited around the moon by Stuart Roosa during Apollo 14 (1971).¬†The photo shows a Moon Sycamore in Philadelphia. Along with the Sycamore, seeds were taken from: Loblolly Pine,¬†Sweetgum, Redwood, and Douglas Fir.[1]

View of Bicentennial Moon Tree, located in the Northeast corner of Washington Square, Philadelphia, PA.

Sycamore grown from Apollo moon seed.

Our favorite sycamore in contemporary literature is a mystical guide. For the writer Annie Dillard, a tree‚Äôs growth into the soil and into the air mirrors a creation continually reborn and expanding in time-space. ¬† In Pilgrim at Tinker‚Äôs Creek,¬† Dillard mentally converses with Trappist monk Thomas¬†Merton, speaking of time and wakefulness (Dillard 2001, 87).¬† She explains she wants to keep awake and ‚Äúprop her eyes open with toothpicks, with trees.‚ÄĚ (ibid., 87). ¬†The sycamore at Tinker‚Äôs Creek serves as her guide for soulflight in drawing the narrator under into the past.

Platanus, the North American sycamores of North America, are known as Plane trees in Europe

  • Platanus occidentalis, the American sycamore
  • Platanus racemosa, California sycamore or western sycamore
  • Platanus wrightii, Arizona sycamore

Its bark is striking and its leaves are enormous.  The trunk can be as well. One at Stanford University has a diameter of 10.5 feet.


February 4, 2011

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Thirty-four year old Andreas Gschwari is setting off this Sunday to walk the 4,600 mile British coastline in order to raise funds for ‘Trees for Life’ (see image above). This charity works to restore the Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands. Wish him well!

And see

January 6, 2011

Alec Soth and the Tree of the World

PBS featured a story on an exhibit at the Walker Art Center on the work of the Minnesotan photographer Alec Soth. ¬†(“From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America.”)¬†The museum commissioned a model entitled “Lost Boy Mountain” that recalls Soth’s photographs around the theme of running away. ¬†This is a camera phone picture of one of his images he took of the exhibit that closes this week. ¬†He has authored photographic books that look extraordinary.

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio,¬†Soth described a six-foot-tall diorama as¬†a scale model of his fantasy. “It’s a tree house up here, that leads down into a secret chamber, a cave that’s full of books.” ¬† Although Soth doesn’t refer to the World Tree, the multi-layered construction is striking: ¬†such trees are found as the¬†center of the cosmos in the religious imagination around the world. In the Americas, the lower, middle and skyworld are connected by a sacred tree. From the Middle East to Scandinavia, the cosmic tree’s branches and roots link the multiple realms.

Lost Boy Mountain Diorama
November 30, 2010

Tough Round Table

When the winds kick up, a little patio table would blow into the next county.  Our friend Matthew took a 30-year old redwood from their ranch, milled it as you see here, and created a heavy, small table we can leave outdoors.  We deeply appreciate the woodworkers of the world.  See

November 10, 2010

Plant a billion trees

In case you don’t know about this.¬†