Hello fellow readers,
I’m back from the Woody Plant Conference held at Scott Arboretum Swarthmore College PA, always a treat. While not nearly as knowledgeable as the scientists and arborists in attendance, I have a love affair with trees; especially those that have lived far longer than we have. I treasure their longstanding stability, their quiet offering of oxygen and cleaning our air of carbon dioxide, plus their sheer beauty. Yes, I’ve been known to hug more than a few (no giggling until you’ve tried it.) There’s an energy being rooted and reliant on our dear earth; we have that in common with trees.
Starting off the conference was Claire Sawyers, Director of Scott Arboretum, who mentioned how our key trees such as “ash, oak, and Picea (spruce) are all under threat of disease.” She went on to reference a recent article about the demise of two to three-thousand-year-old baobabs (Adansonia) in South Africa. “They’re known as the Tree of Life as they provide fruit even in long periods of drought.” Claire didn’t say why they were dying but expressed a deep sadness that all attending could relate.
A baobab tree, also known as boab or boaboa, can store thirty-two thousand gallons of water to sustain itself through severe droughts which occur routinely in their homeland. They can grow to ninety-eight feet with trunks up to thirty-six feet wide – too huge to hug! When leafless their branches look like spindly roots, hence another common name of Upside-down Tree. Since the beginning of this century, the oldest Trees of Life in Africa are dying off too quickly to blame on pests or disease experts say. I had thought perhaps they’ve reached their life expectancy. Apparently not so, as many live five to six thousand years! Scientists have yet to pinpoint the cause, though many surmise climate change which seems curious. Certainly, in two or three thousand years there’s been no shortage of changes endured including severe floods, volcanos, and extended drought.
Next was Ed Ikin of Wakehurst – Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden in Sussex England filled with temperate plants from New Zealand, South Africa, Tasmania, Chile, Argentina, and temperate regions of Australia and North America. All are planted in a natural setting with “rarity and beauty providing the framework of where they are located in the garden,” explained Ikin. His slide presentation of expeditions was much like watching an on-land version of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
Ed then spoke about Wakehurst’s Millennium Seed Bank and the goal of archiving twenty-five percent of world’s plant species by 2025, focusing on plants that provide food, education or are endangered. “They’re being saved is such a way to survive a nuclear explosion,” hardly pleasant to think about and accentuated by their partnership with “the Doomsday Seedbank in Norway,” more congenially called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault I later found out.
Speaking of adventurers, Scott McMahan of the Atlanta Botanical Garden talked about Plant Exploration with a Purpose. Admirably one mission is to help those isolated in areas not yet familiar with agricultural techniques needed for survival, some obvious to us such as drainage holes in propagation bags to prevent root rot. Scott shared slides of food offered by villagers like stinging ants wrapped in leaves, “but they’re high in protein.” He didn’t partake in aged rats pictured in a petrified state though; his talk a preamble to the lunch break. A vegetarian offering seemed to gain popularity. Garden dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com
“Nature never did betray
the heart that loved her.”
William Wordsworth’s famous words worthy to contemplate at Scotts Arboretum…