When you want to hear what trees are saying, take a look at the way they are growing, says a University of Victoria biology professor.
Patrick von Aderkas says trees have a wide variety of responses to various stresses and stimuli.
To understand these responses, people need only notice things like their overall shape, the presence of dead branches or burls and whether their branches are straight or forked.
“There is a real logic behind it [trees and their growth], even though they don’t have brains,” von Aderkas said. “They can’t run away so they have to come up with a different response. Their response is in their morphology, their growth.”
Von Aderkas will help lead a tour of trees on the university grounds today as part of IdeaFest. It will be a chance for people to take good notice of trees, organisms most people pass by without note.
For example, many people recognize the Garry oaks found on southern Vancouver Island, but few take note of the way they litter their surroundings with twigs and branches.
“They are putting their [biological] resources back into their growing parts and not wasting them in keeping branches they are not using,” von Aderkas said.
It’s not just Garry oaks that respond to their environment. Arbutus trees will grow branches in different patterns in response to shade or sun. And maples have a wide variety of growth responses, including patterns on their bark and in their wood.
Large burls found on broad leaf maples — and sought by craftspeople for decorative woodworks — can be an insurance policy for the trees.
“That’s a response, usually, to trauma,” von Aderkas said. “Some insects may get in and hollow out the middle of the tree but the tree is left, sprouting from the burls at the base.”
The genesis of the tree tour can be found in von Aderkas’s own response to biology students.
“They just sort of accept them as this is how trees have always looked to them all their lives,” he said.
“Suddenly you explain to them, and it’s ‘Oh, that’s how it all works.’ ”
• What: Forest Biology Guided Tree Walk
• When: Noon to 1:30 p.m. today
• Where: Meet at the First People’s House, UVic
• On the web: uvic.ca/ideafest
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