Old tree

Trees are fun. Before I started looking at birds, insects, and wildflowers, I was looking at trees. They are enormously interesting, both as individuals, and collectively. As individuals, I love their symmetric growth in the wild, as opposed to the stunted shapes many adopt in cities. These are aspects of their adaptability. When I saw this one in the buffer area outside Pench national park, I first noticed the spread and near-symmetry of its canopy. Then I noticed how the two lowest branches had grown almost parallel to the ground before shooting up vertically, to give the canopy space to grow. The next two start out at right angles to the first pair, again branching out horizontally before growing up. Everything seemed planned for the eventual growth of the canopy.

The old photo gave me an opportunity to play with monochrome images; first the simple black and white, and next the one with inverted shades. This second one shows the branching structure very nicely. Unfortunately, the shape does not really help too much with tree identification. When I see plants with complex flowers, I know they are related; all of them are in the Aster family, Asteraceae. But the three tall spreading trees, mango, jamun, and neem are in three different families. Strangely, a close relative of the mango is the poison ivy. So trees have evolved many times over in different families of plants. So woodiness, longevity, the lack of distinction between seed and soma (trees can be grafted on to each other) are characteristics that can evolve easily in plants, and have evolved in concert many times over.

I played a little with other effects and liked the “pencil sketch” in muted colours on the left, and the “charcoal sketch” on the right. I only use an open source editor, but these are effects which are easy to obtain. A nice thing about this mahua (Madhuca longifolia) tree was that it stood alone, well away from any other tall thing. It was lucky. Trees grow tall because of competition for sunlight, and here this was, with genes which allowed it to grow tall without any competition. It takes time for trees to grow, to produce the mass of wood in the trunk and branches which would support dependent branches and leaves. Mango is productive for more than a century and mahua tree for 60 years or so. So the amount of seed produced more than compensates for the energy spend in non-reproductive maintenance. That’s a strong reason for plants to become trees. I wonder why more of them don’t.


By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.


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