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General Qualities and Recommendations of Trees - An article from "The Trees Of Old England" by Leo H. Grindon
General Qualities and Recommendations of Trees by Leo Hartley Grindon; Previously a Lecturer on Botany at the Royal School of Medicine, Manchester. Author of "Life: its Nature, Varieties, and Phenomena;" "British and Garden Botany;" " The Little Things of Nature;" "Echoes in Plant and Flower Life," and others.
General Qualities and Recommendations of Trees - A Sketch of the aspects, associations and uses of General Qualities and Recommendations of Trees which constitute the forests and give effect to the scenery of Great Britain.
The Trees Of England
Trees constitute an order of nobility; for nature has its aristocracy as well as mankind. If there be "ancient and noble" families in a nation or a community, still older, and inheriting yet more dignity, are the families of living things by which man is encircled. He can claim no honour on the score of descent or genealogy that is not already merited by some patrician of the world of plants; and this not so much because trees are the same to-day that they were in the beginning, as by reason of their absolute excellence, their serene and invulnerable perfection.
Trees are sanitary agents in the economy of the world we live in. By the process of "assimilation" which means the abstraction of carbon from the atmosphere, in order that, in due time, and through certain vital processes, it may be converted into wood and other vegetable substances, by the process of "assimilation," we say, trees, through the medium of their leaves, preserve the air in a condition fit for breathing. Herbaceous vegetation contributes to this great end; but the result is mainly referable to arborescent plants, their extent of leaf-surface being so prodigious, when compared with that of the former kind. We little think when we inhale the fresh air, and quaff it upon the hills, like so much invisible wine, that its purity and healthful- ness come of the glorious trees. But so it is. Nor have we merely the trees of our own country to think of and be thankful for. The air we breathe in England to-day has been purified perhaps a thousand miles away. If the wind blow from the north, we may be thankful to the Scandinavian birches; if from the west, it is quite possible that the magnolias of North America may have helped to strain it; if from the south, were it gifted with language, we might hear news from the orange groves. Every tree in nature makes itself felt in the good it does the air, a beautiful return for the new loveliness it receives when its branches and foliage are stirred and fluttered by the breeze.
The Value Of Trees
Trees supply man with every species of useful article, whether of nourishment, or of material for clothing, or of medicine and with timber whereof to construct dwellings and to build ships, so that even the sea shall be a highway. Not that any single kind is of utility so multiform. Fruits are supplied by some, as the olive and the fig, the coconut and the date; the inner bark of the paper mulberry furnishes the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands with materials for their simple apparel; medicines are afforded by innumerable species, and "wood" and "tree" are words almost synonymous. It would be foolish and presumptuous to say that man could not exist without trees, since, were there no such productions in existence, the Infinite Benevolence would supply his wants through some other medium. But constituted as man is, and established as trees and their functions and properties are, it is plain that the present order and harmony of things in respect to man's welfare, are inseparably identified with trees. Thus, that when we consider man and his privileges, the amenities and the enjoyments that embosom life, the comforts and the ornaments of his home, we cannot possibly do so, if we would give all things their fair place, without keeping trees also constantly before the mind.
Trees And The Picturesque
Trees are indispensable to the picturesque. A mountain, or an extended plain, may have grandeur, though devoid of trees; and it is easy to conceive of richly cultivated valleys covered with crops of corn, or unrolling infinite reaches of green pasture, and at the same time without a tree, except a little one here and there, just sufficient to serve as a landmark. But in the absence of trees, none of these places could be picturesque, in the full and proper sense of the word. The trees break the outlines; they give variety of colours, movement also, and shadows, and touch the imagination with an agreeable sense of fruitfulness; or if they be timber and forest-trees, with the idea of nobleness. They are to the landscape what living and moving people are to the street, or to the interior of the hall or temple an element that may be dispensed with, but at the expense of the finest and most impressive influences. We may be overpowered by the stern grandeur of a treeless waste, especially if it be composed of mountains; and the sensation is one that gives a variety not unacceptable to our experiences of external nature; but the scenes which come home most closely to our sympathies, and that maintain a perennial hold, are those which are enriched by the abundance of their trees.
The Language Of Trees
Poetry finds in trees no little of its sustenance. From the most ancient poets downwards, all verses that have immortality in them, abound more or less with allusions to trees, finding in them either images for the events both glad and sorrowful of human life, or emblems, in their higher nature, of what pertains to the heart and mind. The "Language of Flowers" would be incomplete did it not include the "Language of Trees," since trees are adapted, by their original and inalienable constitution, to serve as metaphors for everything good and wise in human nature. Hence the countless citations of trees in Holy Writ, wherein the cedar and the fir, the vine and the olive, the palm and the fig, are a portion of the ordinary vocabulary not mentioned arbitrarily, or as a sportive act of the fancy, but on account of their being the absolute representatives and pictured forms in the temporal world of the high and sacred realities which belong to the eternal.
Trees And The Growth Of The Mind
Because of these admirable attributes and characters of trees, we propose in this series of papers to examine somewhat closely into their nature and life-history, marking out the features and physiognomy of such kinds as belong to our own island, and inquiring into the specialities which give them their several places in art and poetry. For a tree is not merely an oak, or an ash, or an elm. It has qualities for the imagination and the heart, moving men in its own way, and vindicating prerogatives that are peculiar to it. The mind of the man who in his youth was accustomed to contemplate oaks, grows up very differently from that of one whose boyhood was spent near pines and firs. Where evergreen trees prevail, and are a daily spectacle, a very different frame of mind is induced compared with that which exists where the branches are leafless throughout the winter. As the stars and planets, from the inaccessible altitude of their sweet lustre, make the heart great by the contemplation of them; so, after the same manner, imposing and magnificent trees, whose branches, when we go beneath, seem the clouds of a green heaven, have power to ennoble and elevate the soul, such as all who have lived among them are more or less clearly conscious of, and which is totally unpossessed by small ones.
General Qualities and Recommendations of Trees - An article from "The Trees Of Old England" continued...
General Qualities and Recommendations of Trees
The Structure Of The Stems Of Trees
In England, the trees are all of the class called "exogenous" that is to say, they have numerous and spreading branches; the leaves, when held between the eye and the light, are found, if broad enough, to be marked in every portion by network of green lines, technically called the "veins;" and upon the outside of the trunk there is bark, which can be removed like the peel of an orange. When one of these exogenous or branching trees is cut down, or if a branch be lopped off, the exposed end, on being polished, shows concentric circles surrounding a central point, which in young parts of the tree indicates a column of living pith. The concentric circles announce the age of the tree or branch, which usually is just as many years old in that part as there are rings.
The Growth Of Wood And Bark
In its earliest stage, or while in its first season of growth, the stem of the seedling tree consists only of pith and an enclosing skin. Woody matter is gradually prepared, and this becomes deposited in a layer between the pith and the skin, which latter now acquires the solidity of bark; and should the stem be cut through at Christmas, or at the end of its first year, the first of these annual rings will be plainly visible. Every successive year the process is repeated. With the opening of the leaves in spring (for it is the leaves which really effect the work) the preparation and deposit of a new layer of wood is commenced, so that by the close of the second season there are two layers; by the close of the third season, three layers; and so on as long as the vital lease of the tree endures. The bark is simultaneously renewed, enclosing a larger mass every year. The process is illustrated in the spreading of the little wave-circles upon the surface of still water. Standing on the margin of a lake or mere, and looking at the sky and clouds reflected in its bosom, how often the fairy spectacle is broken by the wing of some light bird that, skimming through the air, just touches the surface and sweeps onward. But the effect of that touch is to cause circle after circle of tiny wavelets to move away from the spot where the touch was given, and as far as the eye can reach, the beautiful phenomenon is continued. Just like this succession of wave-circles is that of the annual wood-circles of a tree, only that on the water we have but an evanescent effect, while in the tree there is new substance and solidity.
The mode of growth and the phenomena referred to are denoted by this word "exogenous" which is literally no more than "expansion outwards". Very different are the mode of growth and the internal condition of the trees called "endogenous." These show no distinction of bark and wood and pith; they are destitute of branches (except in a few instances); and their leaves, which are inconceivably immense to any one who has never seen leaves larger than those of English trees, are produced only upon the summit of the stem. They are chiefly represented in the illustrious tropical productions known as palm-trees those soul-moving emblems of the south and east, and in England are only seen in large and costly conservatories, where room can be afforded them to lift their green pride on high. Even then we only see them as juveniles, no possible structure of glass being competent to shelter palms when full-grown, except in the case of some of the dwarf kinds.
It is among the exogenous trees, accordingly, that in England we find our delight. It is these which form the sweet and solitary arcades of the forest; that are the homes or the resting-places of the birds; that shelter us from the storm, and temper the heat of the sun; whose trunks are embossed with tender creepers of green moss, or hidden by the activity of the innumerable and ubiquitous ivy; it is these that are so lovely in their youth, so venerable in their old age; these that stand still in quiet dignity while we talk of four-score as a wonderful life-time, and for their own part, watch the rise and fall even of nations.
Longevity Of Trees
For the nature of an exogenous tree being to expand and enlarge externally, there is of course no physical limit to the diameter it may attain, or to the number and massiveness of its boughs and branches, or to the multiplication of its twigs and leaves; and should the lease of life allowed it in the Divine economy be considerable, as happens with certain kinds of mimosa, and with many trees of the pine and cedar kind, it may go on growing and enlarging for ages, and after a thousand years be still in the full vigour of its existence. Hence it is that the scriptural image acquires such force "As the days of a tree are the days of my people." Hundreds of trees are standing at this moment in America, some in California, others in Brazil, that were alive when those words were written, and with a grasp upon life and the earth which seems to assure them a period of which they have perhaps no more than passed the meridian. England possesses multitudes of endogenous plants, though no endogenous trees. Lilies, grasses, rushes, are all structurally of the same nature as the palm-trees, and now and then they give us a prototype of the palm; but the beau ideal of the endogen, as said before, belongs to the equinoctial regions.
England The Miniature Of The World
It is a proud and inspiring thought for us, nevertheless, that art and the skill of the gardener allow us the sight of them. By virtue of our hothouses and conservatories, we who live in this age are introduced to the vegetation of every part of the world, without the trouble or risk of departing either long or far from home. England, which stands midway between extreme cold and extreme heat; England, with a surface which embodies in miniature every element and ingredient, except the volcano, that gives variety and sublimity to the face of the earth; England, through its art and science, is the EXHIBITION of the whole world. We need but ask for Saloon A, or Saloon B, and all that the heart can desire is displayed to view. Kew; Chatsworth; if we cross the Tweed, Edinburgh; and Dublin, if we make our way to the green isle, show collections of palms, among other things, which amply inform us as to their wonderful nature. In these glorious places .we see the tropical regions as in a stereoscope, with the added charm that all around us is alive.
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