Carrotwood Tree seed pod. Susan Michael Barrett.
“What are you doing, Susan?” a neighbor asks.
“Picking up Carrotwood seeds.”
“To take care of the babies.”
“Oh. I mean the mangroves. Mangroves are the ocean’s nurseries.”
“I don’t get it.”
“You see, birds, especially that American fish crow, binge on these like I eat potato chips. And then they poop them everywhere.” I point out a vociferous antiphonal caw duet between a pair perched nearby.
“Mangrove Trees aren’t highly competitive. The aggressive Carrotwood Trees are. They’re altering the natural biodiversity. So these potential trees deeply affect our oceans.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I’ll help you pick them up.”
Yesterday was the first time I noted Earth Day by the trees I kept from growing.
Usually I plant trees.
For years, I registered my tree plantings with Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement program. Her goal was to inspire people worldwide to plant a million trees. (To date, 51 million trees have been planted.).
Guess how she started?
She gathered her Kenyan gal pals to search nearby forests for seeds of native trees to create what she called “tree nurseries.”
There’s so much more to her story (find her book, Unbowed), but what matters here is how she inspired me to read about trees, butterflies, insects, birds, and biodiversity. I began to understand how ecosystems work and how slight tilts can have significant effects.
And I started caring a lot about trees.
Last week I finished reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. She’s a super-curious scientist who likes looking at trees and leaves and stokes her wonder by asking them questions. (She is so cool.)
Anyway. Hope, like Wangari, encourages us to plant trees. But not just any tree.
“Unscrupulous tree planting services will pressure you to buy a Bradford pear or two because they establish and flourish in one year; you’ll be happy with the result long enough for them to cash your check. Unfortunately, these trees are also notoriously weak in the crotch and will crack in half during the first big storm. You must choose with a clear head and open eyes. You are marrying this tree: choose a partner, not an ornament…
Once your baby tree is in the ground, check it daily, because the first three years are critical. Remember that you are your tree’s only friend in a hostile world. If you do own the land that it is planted on, create a savings account and put five dollars in it every month so that when your tree gets sick between ages twenty and thirty (and it will), you can have a tree doctor over to cure it, instead of just cutting it down. Each time you blow the account on tree surgery, put your head down and start over, knowing that your tree is doing the same. The first ten years of your tree’s life will be the most dynamic of your tree’s life; what kind of overlap will it make with your own? Take your children to the tree every six months and cut a horizontal chink into the bark to mark their height. Once your little ones have grown up and moved out and into the world, taking parts of your heart with them, you will have this tree as a living reminder of how they grew, a sympathetic being who has also been deeply marked by their long, rich passage through childhood…
At the end of this exercise, you’ll have a tree and it will have you…Everyday you can look at your tree, watch what it does, and try to see the world from its perspective. Stretch your imagination until it hurts: What is your tree trying to do? What does it wish for? What does it care about?…Tell your friend about your tree; tell your neighbor…”
Okay, I told you.
After I post this, I’ll take two milkweed seeds from my garden and make a wish that you plant one tree this year and a second that if you have an invasive tree on your land, you’ll remove it.
NOTES: The Carrotwood Tree was introduced into Florida about the year I was born. It was described as desirable, fast-growing, easy to propagate, disease and pest-resistant, and adaptable to coastal conditions.
The Carrotwood Tree gets an A+ in adaptation.
Here’s the F part: it’s aggressive. Like on the top tier of invasive trees to Florida aggressive. A plant or tree can become aggressive when it leaves its native place where it has predators and controls—where it’s part of an ecosystem that works. (Carrotwood is not invasive in its native lands of Australia and Indonesia.)
I live in central Florida in an area where many Carrotwood Trees were planted in the late 70s. Until they’re removed, we prune them before they seed. Tons of branches bursting with seedpods were cut this week. Afterward, I filled two super-sized trash bins with nickel-sized seeds that fell on the ground during pruning.