Saturday, April 9, 2016

Earth Day 2016: Trees teach us important lessons in life

Life indeed is universal, for life in one is life for all organisms, whether simple or complex as that of man; it is  the binding force of biodiversity which makes us all members of a living world. 
 Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature - School on Blog (
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid (People's School-on-Air) 
with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM Band, 8 to 9 Evening Class, Monday to Friday

Bonsai trees on transport. Bangkok, Thailand 

I didn't believe my eyes to see these massive bonsai trees being moved for exhibit in Bangkok.  For how can trees survive without their whole trunks and roots? 

But that's the magic of the art of bonsai.  The bonsai is a mystery of the biological world.  Starve the tree and it lives longer - even for centuries, as can be seen in bonsai trees in Japan and China, the origin of the art. Fashion its growth, defying balance, gravity and tropism, and nature submits to the art.  Thus bonsai is nature's art copied only by man.  

Go to the wind swept mountain tops.  The trees are gnarled, subdued to the ground, subjected to extreme conditions of the environment, yet they are very much alive.  This is the home of the sturdy Bristle Cone Pine discovered to be older than the three- thousand-year old towering Sequoia or Redwood of Califonia. Look on the very site of a fallen old tree in the Tree Cemetery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and there you will find new shoots arising from its remaining roots, as fresh and as young as the parent tree was many centuries ago. 

Life indeed is perpetual, it is continuous and contiguous. Only organisms die.   But the essence of life itself, the substance, is eternal, passed on from parent to offspring, from one kind to another, ramifying into species, genera, family to kingdom. Scientists trace this to the ever faithful DNA (deoyribose nucleic acid), a discovery we know so little.  Life indeed is universal, for life in one is life for all organisms, whether simple or complex as that of man; it is  the binding force of biodiversity which makes us all members of a living world.       
Requiem to a century old tamarind in San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur

The gnarled and twisted trunk of this sampalok (Tamrindus indica) speaks of its age.  Its demise however, is not due to senility.  Long orphaned from other trees, it stood all alone in the middle of a field, exposed to the elements without buffer against wind. Work animals and goats tethered on its trunk and in its shade caused damage on the tree, while a deep well to irrigate the farm nearby starved its roots.   

  Duhat seedling perched on acacia, subject of curiosity and fun. 
 University of Santo Tomas, Manila 

Some bat may have carried the seed of duhat and deposited it is the hollow of a tree, the bat's abode, or it simply had dropped the seed by accident in its flight. There it germinated, nourished by trapped water and organic matter. Duhat (Syzygium cumini) is not an epiphyte, so that it is likely to die even before we notice its presence in such an unlikely place. 

If it were a balete or strangler fig, the story would be entirely different. It would grow into a monster tree as it  strangles the acacia to slow death with its massive inarching roots encasing the whole host tree as shown in the two photos below.     
Ghostly balete (Ficus benjamina) rises above the forest canopy on Mt Makiling, Laguna, jotting into the sky as emergent, a feat made possible by the characteristic habit of balete to strangle its host to death and taking over its place. 

With the host gone, the balete "trunk" is hollow, which explains the tree house  with a spiral staircase built inside the tree trunk in the Swiss Family Robinson novel by Johann Wyss. 

A balete tree houses a theatre at Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches QC

In the absence of a host tree, the balete produces numerous massive roots instead of a single trunk, colonizing the surroundings to the exclusion of other trees.  The tree virtually walks around, as it roots expand outward in search for richer soil and more space. 

A single old balete tree may be made into a living theatre, complete with roof, walls and even seats. In India and other places the balete houses temples of worship. It is common to see tree houses on balete, or its prop roots forming a dwelling place like a cave reminiscent of our ancestors.

By the way, the balete grows so massive that it can hide a whole ruin from being spotted from the air, an attribute to the late discovery of many ancient ruins in the tropics. The destruction of such ruins is also attributed to the tree's roots strangling the ruins like a host tree being slowly destroyed.  

The balete is associated with the kapre, a hairy monster, white lady who walks at night, and many superstitious beliefs, which include the belief that Judas Escariot hang himself on a balete tree. But superstition is part of the quaintness of  Filipino folklore. 

NOTE: If you see a live band in this photo you must have a a “third eye.”    
Drynaria fern cloaks the limbs of a century-old acacia 
on the churchyard of St Agustin in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur.

The association of the two plants is a classical example of commensalism.  It is a union of two different organisms where one plays host while the other as commensal.  It is similar to the Remora fish attached to the belly of a shark on a free ride and food from its host's morsels.  

Commensals benefit from the host in terms of  food and shelter without apparently causing any harm.  In fact, in the case of the drynaria, the fern stores water from moisture and  rain, and gathers dust, bird droppings and organic matter, which the host tree is greatly benefitted. In such a case, the relationship is that of symbiosis or mutualism.  ~

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