Our Patch: Treehugging Edition

By on Wednesday, October 23, 2013

our_patch_sj_jarmanWe are reminded very much at this time of year of the rather clever life cycle of trees, which live in both warm and dry, and cold and wet conditions. We consider our climate temperate, however: Compare January this year with July – just six months later and there was a difference of more than 40 degrees C. It’s a fairly colossal range, and yet amazingly nearly all of them survive.

I have a friend born and raised in the rather tropical Northern Territory of Australia. The first time she saw deciduous trees, she thought they all had some sort of disease, as the leaves browned, shrivelled and dropped. The fall of autumn does not happen everywhere – we are lucky, and yet we often can’t see the wood for the trees!

(Below: Penny Wood, Whiston)

Penny Wood

Leaves are the energy providers for the tree. They create sugars through photosynthesis, and in exchange for nutrients and water provided by the roots, they allow the tree to grow and fruit. The buds on trees are the first sign of spring, and likewise the turning of the leaves is the first sign that the trees are beginning to shut down for the winter.

The reasons for this fall are that the tree is unable to protect the cells of the leaves from frost; there is little sun in the winter to photosynthesise, and the water in the ground can be almost-frozen and difficult to absorb. I’m sure we all remember this from biology in school, but it genuinely is an amazing adaptation to allow our trees to survive, meaning they create a wonderful habitat for other wildlife to live in and around.

Spangle Galls

They have a lot of issues to deal with in their lives; they are eaten – often by insect grubs, some of which kill them in the process. They are very useful to humans. We seem to like nothing better than chopping them down to make shelter or fire, or clearing them out of their fertile places to plant our crops and graze our animals. They are subject, like any organism, to parasites such as galls (pictured above) – the name given to the damage caused by minuscule wasps, which create berry or nut like appendages to grow on leaves or twigs. They can be the subject of fungal infections which can sometimes live symbiotically with the tree, but very often cause the death of the host.

Hawthorn BerriesThey have to find ways to reproduce, which they do through pollination – some trees’ and insects’ lives are inextricably linked – and through fruiting, whether this be seeds, nuts or fruits. Whilst often berries are designed to be eaten and the hard seed within excreted elsewhere, and nuts buried and forgotten by birds and squirrels, trees have to expend vast amounts of energy producing enough fruit to ensure the continuation if their kind.

Okay, I admit I may have had the urge to hug a tree once or twice, but during their lifetime they are the backbone of woodland, forest and many grassland habitats providing shelter and camouflage, but the story doesn’t end there.

They are just as important when they die. They provide homes for birds, mammals and invertebrates they provide food for grubs and fungi, and eventually they provide nutrients for other trees to absorb and grow.

AcornSo trees are pretty good to look at, and they provide us with food, and shelter and warmth. They provide a living and feeding area for many, many species, and yet this is not the end of their usefulness.

Trees are often described as the lungs of our planet, due to their wonderful respiration, which uses CO2, that terrible greenhouse gas we are finally starting to worry about, and using it with chlorophyll to create energy for themselves. The waste excreted because of this process is O2.

Honey Fungus Stadt Moers PkTrees need a lot of water, as their root systems are often as large below the ground as we see above. In areas where trees have been cleared, flooding regularly occurs – making humans once again the authors of our own misfortune.

So look around, Prescotians – our town and surrounding areas have a lot of green spaces, and most of them have trees. Stop a while – shelter from the sun or rain, look into the canopy, admire the genius of our larger than life co-habitants – and teach our future generations the value of our trees.


SJ, also known as Sarah and Sarah-Jane, held her dream job as a breastfeeding peer support worker until becoming a full-time mum of three. She still volunteers at Whiston Hospital.

In her spare time, SJ loves to read, and play cello with the Knowsley Youth Orchestra. She confesses to being a secret singer ever since hubby Trev bought her SingStar.

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