Tallest Tropical Tree

Scientists announced this month the discovery of the world’s tallest tropical tree! This was in Borneo by a team from the Universities of Oxford and Nottingham. They estimate the tree weighs around 82 tonnes and is just over 100 metres.

tallest tropical tree
Menara, meaning ‘tower’ in Malaysian, standing over 100 m

This giant meranti tree is so large that it can sustain its own ecosystem of more than 1,000 types of fungi, insects and plants. What a star of a tree!

Hardy pines

Pine trees have excellent adaptations for winter. Their needs are thin with a small surface area and covered with a waxy substance called cutin. This prevents water from evaporating in summer and prevents freezing in winter.

It is also interesting to note that the volatile organic compounds that escape these needles are converted to aerosols when coming in contact with oxygen. These aerosols help form clouds which help hinder direct sunlight reaching the planet to maintain the heat balance.

Winter is Coming!

Nature is the law of balance in action. After fresh growth and longer days of light, plants and trees prepare for colder weather. Deciduous trees save the energy maintenance of keeping leaves alive which would otherwise have less photosynthesis in conditions of a light deficit. They withdraw nutrients and through the chemical reactions of sugars and tannins the leaves turn colour and fall. Metabolism slows and the roots become more dormant in the cold. This is actually a good time to plant a tree, as the tree has less demand for nutrients and water, and is less shocked by a new environment. 

Resilient Nature

While humans scramble for layers of clothing and turn on heating in their homes, trees stand naked in the chill,  with hardy specimens handling temperatures down to – 70 °C through the production of proteins that allows the space between cells to freeze, rather than the cells themselves. These temperature decreases are also good for killing pests and disease that would harm trees.

wild tree in cold weather, winter
Trees are well prepared to handle cold weather. However, they do struggle with sudden fluctuations.

Climate Change

With the increasingly unpredictable temperature fluctuations and the increase in milder winters in some parts of the world, trees have less time to adapt. This will result in the death of more species due to periods of extreme cold, as well as to pests and disease from milder winters. More adaptable trees and exotic species will also migrate to new areas, as new habitable regions appear for them. In years to come we will see there has been a large shift in species migration.

Calming the mind with Nature

As the scientific evidence begins to mount, much of it points to the old adage of when feeling down to go take a stroll in the woods. Being in close proximity to trees has shown positive effects on mental illness, ADHD, concentration levels, depression and reaction times. This has been written about by Matthew Silverstone in Blinded by Science (2011), where he looks at various aspects of Nature and the interaction with human mind and body. Essentially, tree hugging is not so laughable with the studies showing measurable decreases in the symptoms of stress. Also expanded upon in the book is that children benefit greatly from being around green plants, showing improved cognitive and emotional function, as well as creativity. If we take a step back, is this so surprising? We have spent far more of our evolutionary history in natural environments compared to our modern homes and offices. Our genome does not forget that easily.

teenagers sitting in a tree

 

Urban Greening with the NCS

On Friday a group of young adults got their hands dirty and transformed a rockery in Roundwood Park in London. This was not easy going with hard soils from the heat wave, but with a bit of persistence and team effort an array of colour and variety was introduced, with apparent satisfaction from this team participating in The Challenge, as apart of the National Citizen Service (NCS).

Teratrees is a partner organisation for the NCS, with our objective of connecting young people with nature and greening London landscapes.

NCS gardening

Transforming a rockery in Brent!

National Citizen Service Launch Teratrees Campaigns

During summer and half-term the National Citizen Service (NCS) run a programme for 15 – 17 year olds called The Challenge. This three week set of activities (indoor and outdoor) helps build skills, confidence and a way to make friends. Continuing on from last year the NCS will be using Teratrees as a partner organisation for some of the outdoor activities – in this case planting trees in the parks of London!

National Citizen Service

Hopefully there will be some rain to break up the heat wave, however, the young trees planted will be watered appropriately. Summer is never ideal for tree planting, but the species chosen (silver birch) are more resilient when planted together as a grove.

Starting off a campaign, the 2018 Perham team (Peratrees) have launched a campaign on the platform and can be found by logging in to the Teratrees website and viewing the campaign tab. Each tree is 100 Tera, which is £5. Tera will need to be purchased before supporting their campaign.

silver birch

A grove of silver birch

 

Planting in Summer

Traditionally October to March are better months for planting as tree root systems are dormant and less water is required. However, sometimes planting is needed in summer and for these occasions it is important to manage the watering:

  • build up watering slowly, be careful of over watering
  • do not try to make up for missed watering sessions by increasing watering
  • deep watering sessions are generally better every few days – think of a good rainfall!
  • avoid the heat of the day to minimise evaporation
  • use mulch to further minimise water loss
  • avoid fertilizers in summer, these can burn the tree when there is a lack of water

oak tree in summer

Oak tree in summer

Why Cold is Good

London bus in snow

A good snowfall in London initially delighted the residents.

With the recent cold snap in the UK brought about by Siberian weather with the storm named the ‘Beast from the East’, much was disrupted. Schools closed their doors, planes and trains were cancelled or delayed and many people had trouble getting into work. Supply chains were halted and supermarket shelves ran empty. People stayed indoors and the cost to the economy was estimated at £1bn per day.

empty shelves

Supermarket shelves were quickly emptied as deliveries failed.

With the novelty of a bright snowfall in London quickly losing its allure, and the risk of reduced gas supply for central heating, one may wonder if there is any benefit to such cold weather.

However, we are just one species on this planet. Cold is needed by Nature for trees and crops to grow properly, and for fruit to be harvestable. Below are a few key advantages of cold weather periods

Vernalisation

Many plants grown in temperate climates require a period of cold weather to start the plant’s flowering process, called vernalisation. This ensures seed and reproductive development occur in winter and spring, rather than autumn. This required cold is expressed in chill hours, usually in temperatures below 7 °C and above 0 °C. For example, apples trees require around 300 chill hours to ensure that they blossom in spring, rather than winter, which would be harmful to their growth.

Ready for Spring

Hardy bulbs required cold weather to elongate their stem. Mild winters or when grown indoors can produce flowers from bulbs which clump on the stem, as seen in indoor daffodils. During winter, herbaceous plants store processed CO2 as starch in their roots. With a cold period before spring enzymes are triggered and convert stored starch to soluble sugars, ready for rapid growth. This rapid growth also ensures they have enough light as the many annual plants germinate at the same time.

Insects

Moths, aphids, worms and beetles are all reduced when the temperature sharply lowers, giving trees a chance in the spring for some initial bug-free growth.

Sweet Vegetables

While this is more for humans, after a good snap of cold weather vegetables like parsnips will be sweeter, as starch is quickly converted to soluble sugars in spring.

While increasingly erratic weather from global warming is not in general helpful for all, including Nature, one should keep in mind that good periods of cold weather are needed by plants and trees to function at their best before spring.

 

 

 

A Northern Forest!

The idea of a new Northern Forest is not new, and has been kept alive in the minds of smaller organisations including the Woodland Trust and local Community Forest partners. It is great to see, however, that this idea made its way upwards and the government is now behind it to create a ‘green ribbon’ of 50 million trees stretching from Liverpool across to the east coast (see below).

northern forest in England

Proposed ‘green ribbon’ of trees to be planted from coast to coast.

£5.7 million will be used to kickstart the project, which will include the creation of broadleaf woodlands and help to sustain existing forests. This part of the UK is only 7.6 % covered by trees, below the national average of 13 %, and well below the EU average of 25  – 30 %. This project has a 25 year span and comes on the back of poor planting levels for 2016 of only 700 hectares, far below government targets of 5000 hectares per year. The Northern Forest project will cost an estimated £500 million which will largely be needed to be raised by charities. This project will require graft and commitment, but the benefits to future generations will be multiple.

Where does the money come from?

Ironically the initial funds are coming from the HS2 fund which is clearly a political move to quieten opponents. HS2 will threaten 32 ancient woodlands according to Friends of the Earth, and the point is made that ancient woodlands can not be created in a short time span. It is also hoped further funds will be injected by landowners after reformed subsidies, post-Brexit.

A vision for the future

Despite the passage of HS2, it is hoped that this is the start of bolder thinking with Michael Gove as the Environment Secretary and that the long term benefits of woodlands are appreciated. Extreme weather events are set to increase – one way of helping flood management is through tree planting.