Posts Tagged ‘teratrees’

The Launch of Teratrees!

I am happy to write here this morning that Teratrees is now live (www.teratrees.com)!

This has been a lot of work but we are confident it is a great idea – an idea that helps us and the planet. So what’s it all about?

Well if you plant a tree it can be ‘owned’ by somebody else or by a company or organisation. This is a virtual ownership, but with a real financial transaction. You can then grow a garden in cyberspace and connect to real people and real trees. There is thus the opportunity to earn money or even make a profit if you are trading or offering your trees on the website. There is also a ranking system where you can appear on the home page – especially good for companies who wish to advertise their green credentials! And if you don’t have a yard or garden at home, then you can have your own one on Teratrees.

In summary, it is a symbiotic system between nurseries, gardeners, individuals and organisations that is going to green the world! We are launching in London with some local nurseries and garden centres – to see more details and to start growing your garden visit Teratrees and register for free!


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Wangari Maathai (Alan Dater and Lisa Merton)

With 7 billion humans on the planet it is easy to talk oneself into accepting one’s own perceived limitations along with the placing of governments, corporations and large institutions on a pedestal. However, some have seen the folly of this apathy and have come to realise themselves as agents of change. One such person, who died nearly 9 months ago, was Wangari Maathai.

A constant battle with President arap Moi. Moi was convicted of bribery in 2006

Born in a village in the highlands of Kenya in 1940, she studied well and ended up doing a masters in biology attained at the University of Pittsburgh which exposed her to the ideas of environmental restoration. Her education continued in anatomy in Germany and was completed at the University of Nairobi, where she was the first East African woman to receive a PhD. This was certainly an accomplishment in a male dominated culture, but there were further battles to be fought against President Daniel arap Moi when she campaigned for a parliamentary seat in 1982. She was denied her right to campaign on a technicality and ended up losing her university position and home.

Maathai and Senator Obama, Nairobi 2006. (Frederick Onyango)

This did not deter her, and she carried on working on her Green Belt Movement with a vision of greening Kenya as well as providing a source of employment for women. This was made possible through Norwegian funds from their Forestry Society and then eventually from UNEP, which allowed expansion beyond Kenya to form the Pan African Green Belt Network. Successful activism includes the prevention of a 60 story complex being built in Uhuru Park and the protection of Karura Forest, with further battles against Moi.

The movement, with its respect for the natural landscape and for individual freedoms, naturally progressed to a democratic movement which kept her continually in and out jail, along with hunger strikes and experiences of police brutality. She finally united the opposition to displace the corrupt government in 2002, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace”. This was one person’s vision and determination.

Tending seedlings at the Tumutumu Hills nursery (Alan Dater and Lisa Merton)

The Green Belt Movement now has 3,987  supported community tree nurseries across Kenya which take care of more than 8 million indigenous seedlings annually for planting in degraded forest lands, private and public lands, sites of cultural significance and protected reserves. It has planted 47 million trees around Kenya.

“We cannot tire or give up. We owe it the present and future generations of all species to rise up and walk!” Wangari Maathai

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The tree is a powerful symbol in human consciousness and one that often manifests in our stories. There, they are often used in journeys or as a connection, as a source of wisdom or redemption, or a representation of the mystery and untamed in Nature.

The magic tree of Enid Blyton's enchanted forest

The magic tree of Enid Blyton’s enchanted forest

In Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series, a magical tree in an enchanted wood allows access to different lands, some pleasant and fun e.g. The Land of Birthdays, and others a nightmare for children e.g. The Land of Dame Slap, a horrid teacher. One must also return in time before the lands rotate, or else one waits another full rotation. Here the tree is similar to the conduit envisioned by shamans to access different worlds (The Meme of Trees), as well as there being a karmic concept of cycles, and consequence, if one stays too long in one land.

The Summer Tree

The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay, is an important link between humans and nature

In The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay, the tree is a place of redemption and sacrifice, and one that can renew the spirit and allow contact with Nature. One who survives this sacrifice on the Summer Tree, the 3 days of being tormented by one’s self, without food or water, arises stronger, with powers and direct communication with the wildness of the land.

In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, trees, and especially forests, are embodiments of the mystery and power of Nature. Elves, who are more connected with natural magic, do not fear these ancient abodes and some make it their home. There are also Ents, tree-like creatures with a tonal language, having become the trees they herded. Large and incredibly strong, they protect the great forests and provide a face for Nature. The Ents, who are slow, but steady, have their anger roused by the deforestation by Saruman and the orcs, and wage war, showing a limit to their tolerance.

Tolkien’s Ents from Middle-earth

In M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (2008), people in cities and suburbia inexplicably fall dead leaving people fearful and confused. Terrorism is initially blamed, but the cause is traced to trees releasing a chemical in order to remove a threat (humans). Here, Nature is fighting back and this brings in similar concepts such as those mentioned in Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia.

A scene from The Happening in Central Park

The Fountain (2006), by Darren Aronofsky, provides a surreal experience with the Tree of Life (inspired by the Kabbalah) an important symbol connecting the three periods (conquistador, the neuroscientist and the space traveller), as well as a paraphrase from Genesis 3:24, that eating from the Tree of Knowledge began human’s experience of duality and limitation.

The tree from Aronofsky’s The Fountain

In Terrence Malick’s visually stunning Tree of Life (2011), there are themes of existence and human suffering in a grand cosmology, while the large oak tree symbolizes connections between generations and the witnessing of family tragedy, while ever growing and being a source of life.

Malick’s Tree of Life: a source of life and connection, and continued existence

Even in ancient stories, The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of literature from Mesopotamia, the hero has to overcome many obstacles, including a Great Flood, to reach a garden of jewel-laden trees where he leaves the physical world. In this ancient epic there is the same account of the flood myth as Genesis 6-8 as well as the account of Enkidu and Shamhat, similarly relating to Adam and Eve.

A tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh, about 4000 years old

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”   William Blake

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While we may consider that many trees make a forest, we should not forget that forests are ecosystems, and that there are many large and small players beneath the canopy. Interactions are too numerous to mention in detail and have evolved over millennia, but pictures can highlight some interesting characters.

The vast canopy, with a tributary of the Amazon

A jaguar having a scratch (Environmental Graffiti)

Emerald tree boa

Leafcutter ants

Howler monkey on a break (Environmental Graffiti)

Baby bear hanging on (Environmental Graffiti)

Tree frog (Ranitomeya summersi)

Baby 3-toed sloth (Environmental Graffiti)

Amazona oratrix

Amazon horned frog

The beady eyes of Tarsiers

Muliticolour treefrog (Ranitomeya benedicta)

Bengal Tiger

The well known anaconda

Amazon Morpho butterfly

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A refuge in the garden (source: treehouse company)

Climbing a tree is a universal joy while growing up and constructing a tree house is a further source of fun, especially as an exclusive meeting place barring adults. Schemes for alien defense, gender battles and plots for world domination are often hatched, until we are told to come down or grow up, or when such an abode no longer inspires our imagination.

Nutritious Sago grubs are a delicacy

However, there are some people who are never told to grow up and climb down, and for whom the tree is an endless source of joy, shelter and essential part of family life. These people are the Korowai and Kombai tribes who live in the dense forest of West Papua in Indonesia, and until 1975 had hardly any contact with the outside world. A large portion of their life is spent 20 to 40 metres above ground in tree houses, and on notable occasions eating the nutritious delicacies of sago grubs.

The tree houses are constructed relatively quickly and provide a good defense against warring tribes, floods and biting insects. The pig is the local currency and a sacred animal, while ritual cannabilism was apparently practiced more in the past. However, once dead, the Korowai believe their souls travel to the underworld along a ‘Major Causeway’ and are welcomed by their ancestors. After a while there they can choose to reincarnate back into a child that is about to be born.

Korowai tree house

Home, sweet home

Constructing a tree house is begun by choosing a sturdy Banyan tree and then removing the crown. Thinner poles provide the framework while the bark of the sago palm is used for the floor and walls, and leaves provide roofing. Similar to most cultures, marriage normally initiates a new house.

For these two tribes, the tree is far more than a provision of shade and beauty, but a home and a source of comfort. Contact has been growing with the outside world, but I imagine there would be some confusion when describing current rates of deforestation and the behaviour of more ‘civilised’ humans.

Vistas of the forest: an old Korowai tree house

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Namibian rock art by San people, giraffes, hunters and a tree.

As we became more conscious of ourselves and the landscape we inhabited the tree played a part in our early art. This could be representing their form as a background to a story, as in hunting scenes by the San in Namibia or early Mesopotamians, or possible use as a marker by Australian aborigines to signify a sacred site. Representation over the years has been influenced by the tree’s innate symbolism (The Meme of Trees) as well as their natural beauty.

Early Mesopotamian hunting scene in the forest. Stone tablet (2250 – 2150 BC)

Aboriginal carvings most likely showing a sacred site in the area, New South Wales, Australia. (http://www.australiangeographic.com.au)

Drawing trees starts early for most of us…

We start building links to our environment at an early age and all of us would have drawn a tree at pre-school or while scribbling with crayons at home. Those who chose a life in art have given us a vision of trees in many different ways, and I shall be sharing some of them below.

View of la Crescenza, 1648-50. Claude Lorrain, oil on canvas.

With its disciplined simplicity, Japanese ink paintings have often provided scenes of contemplation and harmony. Persimmon Tree by Nakamura Hochu, early 19th century

The vivid colour of Vincent van Gogh. Peach Tree in Bloom, 1888.

Gustav Klimt’s Tree of Life, 1908. “Ornament to Klimt is a metaphor of matter itself in a state of perpetual mutation, ceaselessly evolving, turning, spiralling, undulating, twisting, a violent whirlwind that assumes all shapes, zigzags of lightning and flickering tongues of serpents, tangles of vines, links of chains, flowing veils, fragile threads.” – Ludwig Hevesi, art critic

An example of American impressionism. Golden Afternoon by Childe Hassam, 1908.

The Three Sphinxes of Bikini, 1947. The U.S. conducted 23 nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll after WWII. This inspired Salvador Dali’s ‘Les Trois Sphinx de Bikini’. Is it a tree, a human head or a mushroom cloud?

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A guitar crafted in zebrawood

Few living organisms are as beneficial to humans during the course of their life, and thereafter, in their death, as the tree. After its demise it continues to provide wood for human construction, furniture and fuel, musical instruments and works of art, cricket bats, chopsticks and toothpicks. It seems natural to admire a beautiful wooden table or parquet flooring often above their manmade material counterparts. It is a substance familiar to humans and there is a story in all our homes tying wood to the course of our lives.

The Wonderwerk Cave in the Kalahari, South Africa. Evidence suggest early humans were around the fire 1.9 million years ago

In older homes, for example, in a massive cave at the edge of the Kalahari Desert in South Africa, scientists have uncovered an extensive record of human occupation including the evidence of plant ash and charred bone fragments. In this cavern, called the Wonderwerk Cave, humans were gathered round the fire 1.9 million years ago enjoying the benefits of warmth and more digestible food. These were humans even before our current species, most likely Homo erectus, and one must wonder at the stories within their smoky home.

Irish whisky maturing in oak barrels

We still enjoy the taste of wood smoke, whether it be smoked salmon or Lancashire cheese, the Sunday barbeque or the smoked tofu. And how would our whiskies and bourbons taste without Quercus robur (European oak), Quercus alba (American oak) and Quercus mongolica (Japanese oak)? And let us not forget the natural properties of wood. It is an insulator 15 times more effective than masonry and 400 times more than steel, thus explaining why wooden window frames are thermally efficient. Wood is a natural polymer – cellulose fibers in parallel strands are held by a lignin binder. These long strands of fibers resist stress and spread the load or force over their length, making a break across the grain difficult.

Logging in the Amazon

But these boons provided by wood have made the tree ever so popular, so popular that demand exceeds supply. Traditional logging where only large trees were removed and where natural regeneration was permitted, has changed to commercial logging where yields are examined per unit area, and vast swathes are cut removing many species. Even if replanted these areas are usually poor in life as they contain monocultures. So while an ever part of our lives which will continue for years to come, we should pay attention to the wood in our homes and where it comes from, making an effort to choose varieties from sustainably harvested forests.

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In the wake of deforestation and unbridled development, cynicism and despondence may be natural reactions. Although negative emotions may eventually be a catalyst for action, some individuals have planted trees entirely alone and unpressured, with no gain other than seeing Nature come into being. One such story began in 1977, featuring a lone Indian, Abdul Kareem.

Abdul Kareem

Strolling near to his village in Kerala, Abdul was painfully aware of the barren hillsides and on impulse purchased 5 acres of desolate rock with a miserable well. He was instantly popular with the villagers, but only as a source of comedy. One year later, with dreams of a sacred grove (kauvi), he began to plant mature saplings between the rocks. He would load up jerricans a kilometre away and attach them to his motorbike, driving back and forth manually watering each tree. The first plantation unfortunately perished, so he proceeded with a second, and these perished too. The dream was using all surplus cash from his travel business and his family was starting to panic. However, with the third planting several saplings survived and started to grow and Abdul purchased another 32 acres of barren and dusty rock, much to his family’s amazement.

A forest created by one man

For 3 years he nursed the saplings using his motorbike and then one day the level in the well began to rise. He also placed little water pots amongst the saplings to attract birds and promote the natural scattering of seed. Over 25 years he eventually planted 800 species of trees and 300 medicinal herbs, not once weeding, gathering leaves or pruning, and never using fertilizers or pesticides, simply allowing Nature to function. Hare, fowl and small game moved in, along with large beehives. The well could now supply 100,000 litres a day and the water level adjusted quickly, indicating his forest had dramatically altered the water table.

Abdul Kareem and his flowing well

Good news spread and Abdul found his face in the newspapers, and the local government rewarded him with a not-so-sustainable petrol pump which became his source of income. When asked about his creation and his efforts he simply said “Deep inside everyone of us is a call to the wild” and that “much of the impatience, discontent or violence around us is due to the lack of opportunity to reconnect with where we came from. For sanity and generosity of spirit, we should be able to witness Nature at its unceasing, rejuvenating work.”

sources:  http://www.goodnewsindia.com/Pages/content/inspirational/abdulKareem.html


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The Tree of Knowledge

The tree is intimately rooted within human culture and consciousness with significant exposure in religion and myth – often serving as a link to the Earth and the subtle worlds beyond. From Egyptian hieroglyphs tying the character’s soul to the tree, Buddha’s realization under the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), old Semitic texts of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the Mesoamerican world tree – a symbolic axis mundi connecting the seen and unseen, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life – which still influences Western esotericism, Yggdrasil – the giant Norse tree on which the nine worlds exist and the sacred trees of the Arabs which provide council in one’s dreams.

Yggdrasil, the Norse connection to the 9 worlds

By its very form the tree suggests connection with above and below; a mass of tangling, dark roots changing via a conduit to an expanse of branches in the light of sky. It is no surprise that shamans have used this form in journeying; returning with stories of worlds unseen. There are also long associations with ideas of shelter, contemplation, warmth – from the burning of wood, food – from fruit and nuts, construction and support, sacrifice and punishment, and for the pure enjoyment for children’s play. While human knowledge has grown and ideas and cultures have been created, destroyed and mutated, the tree has ever been present and has appeared in our lives’ stories and memories.

The bodhi tree, where buddha sat all night before enlightenment

We should thus ask the question, what it means from a symbolic or mythological perspective, to destroy the tree, and to cut down far more than those that can take their place? Is it representative of a war within ourselves, or do we wish to sever the undying link between the above and the below, the conscious and perhaps that part of ourselves that is more intuitive and more connected with the unknown? And to plant and to connect with trees – is this a desire to achieve wholeness and integration? Myths and mentations are of the past, but they influence us now, and the course of action that we shall take. Let us remember the many human lives and their stories before us.

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The Forest of Dean. Much more is going on between trees than we can see. (CORBIS)

As much as tree evolution and adaptability is affected by selective pressure from the environment, we must not forget that trees have evolved communication processes over hundreds of millions of years which are more forgiving than playing life’s deadly experiments alone. Each tree produces hormones, (with evidence of many being undiscovered) and these molecules act as signals and allow communication with their selves and fellows in the area. Common science talks about 5 major hormones: auxin, cytokinin, gibberellins, abscisic acid and ethylene. These hormones switch on or off chemical pathways and affect responses not only by the type of hormone, but also by their concentration. In this way the same hormone may induce two different responses. And some of these responses are very interesting.

The tent caterpillar

In 1979, David Rhoades, a zoologist at the University of Washington, was investigating the effect of tent caterpillar attacks on willow trees. He monitored two groups of trees in a field in Seattle, one with no caterpillars as a control, and the other infested. Two weeks later he plucked leaves from the infested tree and fed them to caterpillars in a laboratory and found that they grew slower than usual. What was interesting was that plucked leaves from the nearby control group of willows also inhibited caterpillar growth. The willows flood their leaves with unsavoury chemicals (normally phenolics) which discourage insect growth, however, this defence tactic had also been used by the control group, suggesting that communication must have happened via chemicals in the air from the infested tree. Since then similar results have been found with poplars and by using isolation chambers to have a third control which prevents diffusing molecules from being in contact with other trees, and with no resulting phenolic increase.

Air pollution of Mexico City. Not an easy environment for a tree.

Unfortunately trees in urban environments are exposed to many more chemicals and hormonal communication can be somewhat confusing. Thus root growth may be mismatched to foliage growth, or early blooming may occur from unnatural local ethylene concentration. This is the price trees pay living with us until we can sufficiently increase our air quality. And this is a price they pay while they absorb carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen, shade, and the natural beauty of their presence.

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