Trees are responsible for absorbing a fifth of the carbon emissions produced by humans. Although the major tree population will be in rain forests, every tree plays its own small part and we need to nurture and protect our natural heritage. Trees also enhance our view, add colour and seasonal interest and support a diverse and wide variety of wildlife.
The Manchineel tree, Hippomane mancinella is the world’s most dangerous tree. It is native to the Western Hemisphere, Florida, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Its fruit resembles a small apple and if eaten could cause you a trip to accident and emergency. More dangerous is the tree’s milky white sap which is extremely caustic. One drop can cause skin blisters, swelling and burns, which occurs when unsuspecting travellers use the tree for shelter from the sudden rain. Burning the bark can release a poisonous smoke that causes temporary and sometimes permanent blindness.
The oldest living organism on Earth is believed to be a colony of Quaking Aspen trees, Populus tremuloides . They are situated in Utah and cover an area of 41.7 hectares and share identical genetic makeup. Some parts of the inter-connected rootstock are estimated in excess of 80,000 years old.
There are about 39 different native British tree types and a further 18 non-native to Britain. London’s most common tree, the London Plane, is not native to the UK and is thought to be a hybrid of the Oriental Plane and the American Plane, brought here from Spain in the 17th century.
When lost in the wilds, you can use trees to assist you in navigation. In northern temperate climates moss will grow on the northern side of the tree trunk, where it is shadier. The reverse is true in the southern hemisphere.
The Jack pine, Pinus banksiana has an unusual way of surviving. They are found in Canada and northern parts of central and eastern US. Its cones are thick and hard and glued shut with a strong resin. These cones can hang on the tree for years without opening up to release its seeds. It is only when a fire sweeps through the forest that will allow the cone seeds to be finally released. This happens as heat from the fire melts the resin that bonds the cone shut.
The English Oak is the most common tree in the UK. Acorns are not produced until the tree is at least 40 years old. Its Latin name, Quercus robur, means strong or firm Oak.