Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Architecture of Trees

Once there was a tree....
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
~ Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree

Over the holiday, we experienced a short period of snowfall.  The dusting of snow on the dark woody branches created a sharp contrast among the foliage.  Peering out our window, the trees' architecture illuminated fractal-like patterns across the landscape.  I loved the small gatherings of snow that had accumulated at the ends of Pink Dogwood's branches and from a distance it appeared to be blooming. The scene was incredibly beautiful. 

So, I grabbed my camera and headed outside.  While photographing the trees, I thought about the uniqueness of each branch and questioned how its architecture influenced its function.  It was evident that the branching structure influenced how snow was captured as well as the amount of snow; therefore, I wondered if this applied to other elements such as water, sun, and carbon dioxide.  I did some research and found this interesting article on a recent study investigating the branching patterns of trees. Researchers state that:

"Just by looking at a tree's branching pattern, it turns out, scientists can gather clues about how it functions – for example how much carbon dioxide it exchanges with the atmosphere or how much water transpires through its leaves – regardless of the tree's shape or species."

I also questioned if the tree's architecture is responsible for attracting certain species including insects and birds.  What do you think?  I can imagine two eagles flying by with one commenting, "Honey, that one is a fixer-upper!  I told you, I'm only interested in Oak!  The Hawks have Oak and they love it!" 

I'm fascinated by the reciprocal relationship between design and function.  Whether it's curriculum or homes, design plays a role in how we use and respond to the product.  When it comes to trees, it takes years to develop these intricate and complex structures.   There is still so much to learn from our wooded valley and I hope we will preserve British Columbia's forests for future generations to study and experience. 

“Catch! calls the Once-ler.
He lets something fall.
It's a Truffula Seed.
It's the last one of all!
You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.”  
~ Dr. Suess, The Lorax

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