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EACH branch and leaf adapts itself to the presence of its neighbors. Plants support each other. They unite death and life. Dead branches and leaves fertilize the soil, while roots and capillaries pump water out of the ground. A life-giving cycle that transforms, regulates and creates. Through evapotranspiration, forested areas charge the atmosphere with water vapor and thus create rain, nourishing vegetation and replenishing the groundwater. Leaves capture part of the solar energy, which they transform into organic matter saturated with cosmic energy. The life cycle of trees is determined by the length of the days and varied temperatures. They constitute a living source, which flow of oxygen and nutrients is consumed by animals and humans. Furthermore, trees contribute to the formation of the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun's excessively strong ultraviolet rays.
Roots intertwine/communicate with other roots. Together with the mycelial threads of fungi, an underground life-promoting biosphere is created — the mycorrhiza, where bacteria fix nitrogen and supply the trees with minerals that otherwise would be difficult to obtain, such as phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc and manganese. If you give the plants nutritional supplements in the form of artificial fertilizers, they stop feeding the symbiotic fungi, which die and disappear. A growing tree becomes increasingly complex. Filled as its crown is with buds and new shoots it is constantly renewed. It spreads out and protects the earth. Flowers, leaves and fruits flourish within its crown. Trees are always directed toward the future. They are never completed, growing and developing in unison with the time cycles of the cosmos. Quietly, they compromise with the forces surrounding them. The patient adaptability of trees is completely different from humans' everyday life, which increasingly is built up from fragments in the form of e-mails, text messages and tweets, communication processes that alienate us from life, from closeness to nature and our fellow human beings.
The tree has an inner time, manifested through its annual rings. When we experience how a tree we have planted begins to grow we sense the future and gain confidence in it. Trees adapt to difficult conditions and can provide us with life and beauty. They meet our expectations.
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Leaves are the elementary, structural and functional unit of a tree. A large tree carries millions of leaves diligently transforming light and water into matter and not least, fruits and seeds. Trees are firmly rooted in the earth, though that hasn't hindered them from spreading across the world. Their seeds break free from the anchorage of roots and branches, to be carried away by animals, people, wind and water.
Even though trees sustain life and provide us with joy and inspiration, we do not revere them. Instead, we abuse them, exploit them mercilessly, killing them for personal gain and profit. We have left the geological epoch of the Holocene behind and entered the Anthropocene (when everything is changed by humans). Even if we, against all odds, were to experience a population decline and if agriculture became dependent on sustainable farming methods, we have irreversibly altered our living conditions — the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the biosphere. Is there any hope for humanity to survive? Can trees give us hope?
Many of us assume that tropical forests generate their abundance from fertile soil. But the soil they grow upon is generally quite poor and constantly washed by abundant rains. It is not on the ground that we find the greatest fertility, but in the tree crowns. Jungles believed to be primeval forests have often taken over land earlier used for agriculture. Large parts of the Amazon forest were once populated by farmers who perished and disappeared through smallpox and other deadly diseases brought to them by the Europeans. Many of today's lush and abundant tropical forests grow upon land that has been depleted either by rain, or intensive agriculture.
The adaptability of trees is amazing. Deserted land, even if it has been devastated by industrial/harmful mono-cultivation and/or once harbored forests subjected to reckless depredation, have demonstrated a remarkable ability to revive itself, creating hybrid ecosystems where life of the old kind mix with newly introduced plants while adapting to drastically changing environmental conditions. Such regenerated, self-planted forests exhibit an unexpected diversity of species that protect soil and plant life, fix atmospheric carbon, and begin to produce timber, wood and charcoal. For example, in the Brazilian District of Para, 25 percent of the area taken from the Amazon jungle has become forest land again and strangely enough its capacity to bind carbon dioxide is 20 times greater than that of the old forests, while birds and other animals have returned.
However, this cannot mean that we can continue exterminating earth's essential life sustainers, i.e., trees and forests. Soon it will be far too late to save them, ourselves and our descendants.
BY JAN LUNDIUS, IPS