Three Trees

1) And then there was computational wood.



For his master's thesis, produced last year under the direction of Timo Arnall, Matt Jones, Jack Schulze, Lennart Andersson, and Mikael Wiberg, designer Matt Cottam directed this short video about a technique for growing electrical circuitry inside the trunks of living trees. Just inject the right trace metals, Cottam's mad scientist narrator explains, do some more techno-magic, and simply let the wood grow...

If only it were true. But the day will come, my t-shirt will read, when all the trees around us are computers.

2) While researching blackouts for a seminar I am teaching this winter at Pratt, I stumbled on a strange anecdote from The New York Times, published back in 1986, about a plant physiologist at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden who was seeking a way to end the risk of "trees crashing down on power lines" (a major source of power interruptions).


[Images: All photos by Adam Ryder, from On the Grid].

"One of the things we're looking at," the scientist explained, "is something that will directly retard the growth of trees"—that is, chemicals "that interfere with the basic growth hormones." He was trying to develop, he adds, "a mild chemical" that would deliberately slow tree growth, "and instead of spraying we're injecting [it] directly into the tree."

Who knows where that research has now led them, twenty-four years later, but I'd suggest someone might want to mail them a copy of The Death of Grass. ASAP.


[Image: A fig tree grows in Los Angeles; photo by Pieter Severynen].

3) While going back through old bookmarks this morning, I rediscovered Tree of the Week, a series of articles run by the Los Angeles Times. The overall project could be described as a botanical cartography of the city: a catalog of Angeleno trees.

This week's tree is the "highly productive fig"; last week's was the Blackwood Acacia. With regard to the latter tree, Pieter Severynen, the series author, writes: "Given its negative properties it should be clear that a description of this tree, or for that matter any tree of the week, does not imply an endorsement to plant. Instead it is offered as a means to learn more about the existing trees that make up the fascinating urban forest surrounding us in the Southland."

The "fascinating urban forest surrounding us in the Southland" includes the Weltwitschia, the "picturesque Aleppo pine," and, of course, among many others, the apple, a tree genetically sculpted over the millennia through "hundreds of accidental and deliberate cross-hybridizations" around the world, Severynen writes.

Anyone interested in exploring the urban forests of Los Angeles would do well to check out the fruit maps of Fallen Fruit, who have discovered in the seemingly random dispersal of fruit trees around Silver Lake the remnant outlines of long-forgotten orchards; but if your curiosity goes further afield than L.A., the absolutely fantastic book Wildwood, by the late Roger Deakin, has truly unforgettable descriptions of walnut harvesting in Kazakhstan, old-growth Eastern European forests filled with war ruins and shrapnel, and Deakin's own backyard in England. It is often astonishingly beautiful—and it also Deakin's last major work.

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Anonymous Tom said...

Crikey, people won't half go to some extremes! Maybe turning trees into computers would be the best way to save them from the chainsaw massacre, and I'm not even a big environmentalist, happy days! Long live the tree!

February 04, 2010 11:03 AM  
Blogger chuck.godwin said...

Geoff,
If memory serves, I first saw reference to Wildwood in a listing of books in one of your posts. It is truly a wonderful book; I am a lover of trees anyway, but Deakin's book reveals them in ways even a lumberjack could love.
Every one should read it.

February 04, 2010 1:11 PM  
Blogger chuck.godwin said...

Everyone, too, should read it.

February 04, 2010 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously? Dr Herb Smokler? Brilliant.

February 04, 2010 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Georgia said...

Glad I read this post. Great to discover Tree of the Week, the L.A. Times series.

February 07, 2010 2:06 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

It's a great series, Georgia; I'm very happy to have point it out!

Chuck, I absolutely agree. Wildwood is one of my favorite books from the past few years. In fact, if you liked that, you might also enjoy The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane; it's an amazing book, and Macfarlane and Deakin were actually friends (Deakin thus pops up in The Wild Places a few times). Worth seeking out, I think.

February 07, 2010 3:24 PM  
Blogger Jacqueline said...

Human beings are always trying to control nature & 'Bend It To It's Will.' I can't stand the fact that people are actually trying to retard a trees growth by the use of a "mild" chemical. There is no such thing as a "mild" chemical, just people who can't see the innate beauty in nature & want to over-power it. Just reread your post & saw this was said in 1986. Well at least he didn't get far with this idea. Great post, interesting ideas & fabulous photos.

March 13, 2010 6:54 PM  

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