Thursday, 16 January 2020

wollemia nobilis

Via Super Punch, we learn about the clandestine, successful mission pulled off by botanists, park rangers, conservators and New South Wales’ brave firefighters to save the only known wild population of Wollemi pines.
The trees, which may be up to one hundred thousand years in age, number about two hundred individuals and prior to their discovery in 1994 (akin to finding a living dinosaur), were believed to be extinct and only known through the fossil record. The operation was kept secret so as to not disclose the grove’s location as caretakers fear that visitors could bring contamination that could harm the critically endangered species. Clones have been propagated worldwide and have distinct broad needles and knobbly bark.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

palm house and parterre or bulletin of miscellaneous information

Underpinning nearly all life on Earth and comprising a majority of the planet’s biomass, the kingdoms of plants and fungi are constantly yielding up new discoveries that we must cherish and preserve as best we can, for their own sake and to mediate on the strange and novel adaptations and chemical magic that Nature has developed, some habitats lost before we could fully appreciate or even identify what sorts of treasures we’ve destroyed. Curators at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have selected ten superlative finds out of the some one hundred and nine newly, officially recognised species all across the globe to highlight this wonderful and surprising realm, including a berry that has the effect on the human palette of turning sour tastes to sweet (Synsepalum Chimanimani) and a tenacious shrub confined to a single waterfall that produces its own adhesive to stick to rocks and prevent it from being swept away.

Sunday, 8 December 2019


ideograrch: the iconic works of architecture abstracted in Kanji-like calligraphy by Federico Babina

quasi-modo: a Russian DJ that combines his skill with bell-ringing with techno music

head in the clouds: a look at cities in the sky

dreigroschenoper: a gallery of playbills and references that cover the works of Bertolt Brecht—via Strange Company

pelagic zone: a deep sea explorer from (previously), via Kottke

fine html products: a survey of superlative links of the 2010s

apotropaic charms: stunning enamel pins from Lydia Daum, via Swiss Miss

you have the right to hush-up: Slaw & Order, courtesy the Art of Darkness

ๅ†ฌ: Aoi Huber Kono’s 1972 picture haiku book Winter

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

nacho typical arbour day

In light of Ethiopia’s big stride towards its goal of reforestation of four billion trees as part of a wider campaign and being cognisant that good efforts need some expertise to back them up, we appreciated this selection of products and projects from Futurekind, which included this sort of compostable chip-and-dip bowl for saplings called Cocoon, having taken part in many of these huge arboreal efforts, that helps boost survival rates by reducing the need for follow-up irrigation. Much more to explore at the links above.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

me + t

Having explored the proven and somewhat more esoteric ways that plants are networked and sustain one another in the past, we really appreciated Open Culture’s take on plant communications and how, if the titular character of Shel Silverstein’s story, had not been in isolation a You Gotta Be Kidding Me Tree would have intervened when the giving came to taking. See a suite of lessons on how trees talk to one another at the links above.

Friday, 5 July 2019


Though not totally out of the woods (like the paradox that holds one can only wander half way into the forest because after that point, one is on the way out), Swiss researchers bring the encouraging news that planting a trillion trees could reduce carbon dioxide levels by fully two-thirds, sequestering the green-houses gases that man has been flagrantly pumping into the atmosphere for the past quarter of a century.
That last third will be tough to eliminate but together with continuing emission reductions, dietary changes and advancing technology, the task at hand no longer seems as hopeless—the boost from the trees, according to new models, far greater than expected. Not only would the massive greening of the planet be logistically tenable and a bargain too great to pass up—at around thirty cents per sapling, it would cost all of three-hundred billion dollars—and despite the considerable space that this many extra trees would need to grow, continental America plus China, surveyors have found room at the borders and verges and in derelict land without taking any places used for growing crops and urban spaces—though more trees would dot pasture lands and be to the benefit of grazing livestock. Everyone can take part and aside from the intrinsic and aesthetic value of trees (helping to stop erosion, drought, flooding and preserve biodiversity), it’s moreover an intervention that is not predicated on convincing the nay-sayers and science-deniers otherwise.

Friday, 28 June 2019

buckeye state

Recommended by Digg, we really enjoyed reading this nuanced, thoughtful essay that explores the project to restore North America’s blighted chestnut forests (see also) by creating a genetic hybrid whose DNA contains material from wheat that makes it resistant to the fungus that wiped out the trees.
Given how some of our exuberance to adopt GMOs was misplaced—and conversely fears over it, it is especially vital to get the science right before releasing something synthetic into the wild as trees not thrive outside of our laboratories, fields and plantations, they are also a vital part of the landscape and ecosystem, host to their own particular constellations of Nature. What do you think? Testing is extensive and circumspect and well worth considering all the trials conducted and considered but one in particular stands out: tadpoles fed with either natural or transgenic chestnut leaf litter thrived equally well, but grew at nearly twice the rate of their siblings that had to make due with a diet of maple and beech leaves—their only option since the chestnuts disappeared a century ago, suggesting that the ecosystem is missing these magnificent and useful trees far more than we can appreciate.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

die unendliche anziehungskraft der natur

Inspired by a sketch executed in 1971 by fellow Austrian Max Peinter (*1937, a cousin of Ettore Sottsass) called “The Unending Attraction of Nature” art collector Klaus Littmann will bring the picture to life by transplanting a forest of trees in the sports stadium of the industrial city of Klagenfurt as public art installation of the same name.
Calling the government officials out for their inaction on climate change and habit loss (lifestyle choices do matter and have an impact but the real and difficult sacrifice is in legislating the polluters), Littmann fears that in the near future, such displays of Nature might in fact be within the purview of the viewing platform or gallery, like animals in zoos. They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum. Once the project concludes (9 September – 27 October 2019), the trees will be given a permanent home at a nearby location on public lands.

Monday, 6 May 2019

botantical mysogyny

Though admittedly a simplification of a host of factors and vectors coming together to exacerbate seasonal allergies and tree sex and gender are far more complex, we learn via the always excellent Kottke people experience outsized hay-fever and respiratory responses in part in America at least (and there’s surely counterpart problems created unintentionally elsewhere) because of a misguided appeal to urban planners decades ago to line the streets with greenery exclusively of the male variety, reasoning that then we could dispense with messy blossoms, fruits and pods that female tree would produce.
Not that trees were not incorporated into cities and sidewalks prior to the 1940s—but many of the stately, oldest residents had been blighted with the outbreak of Dutch Elm disease when production demands of World War II made the usual quarantine process that kept the pests at bay infected all American elms—and the reforestration effort was thought out along more deliberative but short-sighted lines, perhaps tidier and have a certain aesthetic like our ridiculous, manicured lawns but unbalanced with row upon row of bachelor trees spewing out too much pollen and making us noticeably suffer. What do you think? Sexism in the plant kingdom is not the same as the attitude that excludes women from medical studies and clinical trials as they are deemed unfit control subjects and most treatment and dosage comes from a pointedly male perspective but has consequence nonetheless.  I wonder what the second- and third-tier effects are that we can’t even begin to appreciate.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

gewรถhnlicher spindelstrauch

There’s a rather unassuming shrub growing in the backyard with the scientific nomenclature Euonymus europaeus, the European Spindle that colourfully blooms with these clashing and poisonous pink and red flowers in early September that begin to bud (below) in April.
This small tree that inhabits the edge of forests and whose hard wood was the preferred material for making spindles for spinning wool and other implements. The infrequent surname Swindler, rather than the obvious connotation, derives from a northern dialectal variant for those who make spindles—the ‘sw’ transformation less taxing on the tongue than ‘sp.’

Saturday, 29 December 2018


There is an ancient Chinese proverb that posits that while the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the number two best time is today, and via the always excellent Kottke’s Quick Links, we learn about an ambitious consortium of conservators and arborists who have successfully cloned one hundred saplings of giant redwoods from the stumps of five of most majestic trees (previously thought dead) felled in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive—inspired by a near-death experience, aims to re-establish the forests of the North American Pacific Northwest Coast as a bulwark against climate change—though these colossal trees are susceptible to environmental degradation, being extraordinarily long-lived, they could teach humans a thing or two about living on Earth in terms of weathering change and wildfires. The trees sequester as many tonnes of carbon in their trunks as two hundred and fifty regular trees and the cloned specimens are not only seeding the coastline but are also being exported to places around the world. More to explore and learn how to get involved at the links above.

Saturday, 3 November 2018


We took a drive through the countryside and stopped at the foothills of the Rhön and hiked up the stony and wooded slope of the Schafstein, the Sheep Rock. A lot of forests are maintained in a sustainable manner (or at least so we’d like to hope, not really appreciating the impact of our harvesting has on the ecosystem) in Germany but there are few untrammelled places but since the 1990s, the inner core of the trees growing here, within a much larger reserve, have been left to their own devices in hopes of re-establishing an old-growth forest.
Please click on the pictures for larger images.  Basalt boulders and fallen trunks covered with different mosses punctuated the terrain and were stepping stones for the ascent, not treacherous but certainly a demanding climb. Let’s hope more places are allowed to revert to their pristine state. Afterwards we continued on to Guckaisee, a series of lakes at the base of the mountain whose water levels had been essentially negated due to the hot, arid summer—though visiting ducks were content to plop into the lake bed and do a little bit of mud surfing.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

der once-ler

Recognising that (beyond the intrinsic value of trees and woodlands in themselves) afforestation and reforestation efforts are as important as reducing emissions and that every little bit helps, Berlin-based search engine Ecosia (previously) the Guardian reports has offered the energy company that owns the land that the remnant of Hambacher Forest a million euros to purchase the parcel and preserve it in perpetuity.  Ecosia’s search machine is in an browser overlay that is non-intrusive and generates revenue through advertisements which are used to support tree-planting and other conservation campaigns and one can learn more at the links above and get updates at the organisation’s own blog here.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018


It’s bad enough that the majority of human history is myopic and making a public declaration of it seems even worse—one shouldn’t be rewarded for being “self-aware” indiscriminately.
Consigning a small remnant of a primeval wood outside of Kรถln to axe to expand a lignite extraction operation seems incredibly short-sighted—saying that Germany’s immediate energy needs outweigh the patch of twelve thousand year old Hambacher Forest, home to a unique ecosystem and archaeological sites that have never been properly assessed. Protesters have occupied the forest in tree houses in order to protect it for the past six years but have recently been evicted by police, and activists and some panel members on the coal company’s board of directors (which own the land) believe any decision should be deferred until the terms of Germany’s strategy for withdrawing from the mining business altogether are finalised.

Friday, 7 September 2018


Thanks to Super Punch, we learn that there is a class of highly-specialised trees that have evolved a particular affinity for normally toxic metals.
As the appropriately named Doctor Antony van der Ent explains to the BBC’s science desk, a species that they are studying in New Caledonia has high concentrations of nickel in its sap (latex) that researchers speculate may be a defence against insect predation. Under threat from deforestation from strip mining activities and slash and burn farming, scientists hope to study how the mechanism, called hyperaccumulation, works and perhaps to harness it to purify soils contaminated by industry or waste or even passively mine the ground for metals, harvesting the accrued resources with the plant—an extraction strategy called phytomining.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

out to pasture

Via Kottke, we’re directed toward a rather powerful and immediate way to visualise land-use in the United States of America by projecting percentages on to a map of the contiguous states. Each pixel represents one million acres (about four hundred thousand hectares) and an enormous amount is allotted to ranches, ranges and pasturelands for livestock and for raising feed for the animals with crops for human consumption dwarfed in comparison. One would think that in this day and age, one could find a better use for more than a third of one’s territory than the upkeep of cattle and wonder how other countries and regions rank.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

father of many seeds

Unlike the Little Prince who considered them an existential threat to his tiny planet, we’ve been cultivators of baobabs for quite some time and have many clones around the house grown from errant leaves and branches and it was quite distressing and depressing to learn that after millennia of existence, we’re living through a time (with our much more modest lifespans) when many of Africa’s monumental trees have succumbed to the ill affects of manmade climate change. The title is the etymological root for the plant, borrowing from the Arabic name abลซ แธฅibฤb (ุฃุจูˆ ุญุจุงุจ). Hopefully it’s not too late for those majestic and sheltering landmarks that remain.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

sperrzone oder deutsche-deutsche grenze

We owe the expanse of forest in part at least to being on the former border that separated East and West Germany (previously here, here and assuredly elsewhere) and the Grรผnes Band Deutschland (the German Green Belt) conserved by environmental organisations to form a natural reserve linked along the former Iron Curtain, forming a quite exceptional no man’s land of undisturbed species and habitats.
Today all that remains is a trail marker and a slight gradient change. On the Thรผringen side, there’s carriage way for patrol vehicles that runs parallel to the corridor and a small memorial to two casualties of the intervening minefield during an escape attempt in 1965.
The first stages of the partition of Germany from 1945 to 1952 was also referred to as the “Green Border” before fortifications were established and movement strictly controlled but authorities on both sides soon realised that they needed to increase security measures in order to stem the flow of economic refugees in the eyes of the West and “spies, diversionists, terrorists and smugglers” according to the East.

Friday, 23 March 2018

yes, I am the lorax who speaks for the trees, which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please

Via Kottke’s Quick Links, we are introduced to a Berlin-based internet search engine called Ecosia whose simple and transparent business model based on advertisement revenue (if they’re going to profile you, invade your brain and vie for your attention anyway, then let it be at least for a good cause) has so far managed to underwrite the planting of approaching twenty four million trees—with a goal of a billion more trees by 2020.
We’ve grown keenly aware  of the contribution of forests to ecological balance, biodiversity and climate stabilization but we’ve got a long way to go to make up for our thoughtless past behavior. Join the team at Ecosia on their journey to achieve this good turn for the planet.

Monday, 29 January 2018


The always brilliant Nag on the Lake shares a short but rather remarkable video on the efforts to reforest Iceland and return it to the state it was, some twenty to forty percent woodland coverage, before the arrival of the Vikings and the clearing to make room for agriculture and grazing lands. Lack of trees contribute to extreme weather in the country as well as diminishing returns on farming and pastures as soils erodes, threatening to turn the island into a desert. Learn more at the links above.