FOREGROUNDING PLANTS: THE ARNOLD ARBORETUM CELEBRATES 150
In one of our more flamboyant arboreal seasons of the year—when our charismatic woody megaflora of the Northern Hemisphere—the trees—are chorophylling down, coloring up, and turning over their foliage biomass to the soil in preparation for the winter ahead, this week we are in a conversational exploration about the scale and meaning of trees, with William (Ned) Friedman, 8th director of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, where he is also an evolutionary and organismic biologist.
Located in Jamaica Plain and Roslindale Massachusetts, this free and open-to-the public majestic convening of over 2100 species of woody plants and trees across 281 acres, is celebrating its 150th anniversary of growing together. The trees have so much to teach us, and we have so much to learn.
Follow the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University online: https://arboretum.harvard.edu/ and on Instagram: @arnold_arboretum
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JOIN US again next week, when we are in another conversation whose real focus is gratitude for our relationship with and to plants with Zephrine Hanson, the founder and human force behind Hampden Farms in Denver Colorado. Her work and mission is to accelerate food security and community wealth building. Through investment in agricultural entrepreneurship. Listen in!
Speaking of plants... and place:
Speaking of plants and place and the larger garden of trees that characterizes so much of planet earth, this week let’s talk about a lovely and adaptable garden tree – the Tupelo. Also known as Black Gum, or Sour Gum or Cotton Gum, or Black Tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica is a medium-sized deciduous tree native to from Southern Eastern Canada down through the Central and Eastern and southeastern United States, into Mexico. From the Nyssa family – Nyssaceae, the genus Nyssa has a handful of species, but it is the Nyssa sylvatica that is most widely known and most widely cultivated, especially for its outstanding red fall color - the many birds who love its rich purple fall fruit.
The Nyssa I know here in Northern California, planted in John’s garden 30 years ago, perfectly demonstrates some of the most noted attributes of the tree starting with this bright, rich, red fall color on the small simple leaves, it is slow growing to about 30 feet in cultivation especially without too much water or additional nutrients; and that while its early spring blooms are inconspicuous to our eyes, the nectar is of great value to early foraging bees in spring – bringing to mind the much-lauded "Tupelo Honey" of both honey-makers and Van Morrison fame. Finally, the tupelo is tough as anything being adapted to both marshy conditions and dry rocky mountain slopes. This extreme adaptability is captured in its name – Nyssa sylvatica, Nyssa meaning water nymph and sylvatica meaning of the woods.
While Northern California is way out of its native range, the pretty little 20 foot tree outside of the garden gate here is well-behaved and undemanding, watered maybe three times this summer, tops according to John.
A little Tupelo trivia for you, in Vernon, Vermont, in the southeastern aspect of the state is one of the oldest and northern-most outposts of Tupelo, there called Black Gum, remaining in the US: According to the Vernon Black Gum Swamp webpage, administered as part of the Vernon town forest, The black gum tree is relatively common 400 miles to the south, but in Vermont it is rare, a remnant from the past when the climate was warmer, approximately 3,000-5,000 years ago. Some of the black gum trees in these northern hydrology-regulating swamps, are purported to be over 400 years old.
Nyssa trees tend to be mostly-dioecious – meaning mostly pollen producing, sometimes referred to as “male” or mostly-fruit producing, often referred to as “female” but most trees also have some perfect flowers – both male and female– allowing for self-pollination and reproduction by seed held in the deep purple drupe fruits just in case a suitable partner is not nearby come spring.
For now, in the garden here, the Tupelo’s bright red leaves are scattered decoratively across the ground at the trees base, and the small pyramidal winter silhouette of dark wood (beloved by woodworkers) will stand quiet sentry moving on from this week’s full moon in Scorpio into the dormant season in front of us, the winter Solstice just six weeks away.
Yes, this lovely tree is sweet as Tupelo Honey, and yes, I will be humming that all day.
Thinking out loud this week:
I wanted to share this quote from my conversation with Ned, so you really hear it there and it seeds inside you appropriately
“The context of this garden of trees and woody plants isn't very different than it was 140 or 50 years ago, I think that’s what’s great about a visionary sort of approach to something. Arboreta, and a majority of botanical gardens in general, occupy this incredibly important place [in our world] foregrounding plants, in helping us as a community, as a country, as a set of countries around the world to be more respectful of plants—and if we can be more respectful of plants maybe we can be more respectful of the planet?”
And from there, maybe we can more respectful of one another in all our growing ways.
In our conversation, Ned also says: “Trees speak of time.”
And I got to thinking that in this they highlight how in many ways our attention to trees speak of our own time—how we invest our time, what we value with our time, and therefore the reality of our own intentions over time.
Let our own personal tree time dialogues be a blessing to the many in these times. May plants always be in your foreground my friends.
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