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The Cry of a Tree

other living organisms such as animals, trees also respond to stimuli. The Oxford English dictionary defines stimulus as something that produces a reaction in a human being, an animal or plant. This response can be seen in a plethora of phenomenon in nature such as plants growing towards light (phototropism), plants growing towards gravity (geotropism), plants growing towards an object/touch (thigmotropism) e.g. peas and granadilla plant species.

As a famous aphorism goes “Hurt me and I will cry, cut me and I will bleed”. When trees are starved of water and other favourable conditions required for growth, they suffer and make a noise. Unfortunately, because it is an ultrasonic sound, too high for us to hear, it goes unheard. Thanks to researchers! They have found a way of understanding these cries for help. This is not the only time that trees cry, they also cry when scared or subjected to harsh conditions such as fire.

According to scientists Jack Schultz and Ian Baldwin, who have been studying communication between plants since 1983, trees are not lethargic things that stand around waiting to be eaten, nested in or cut down for charcoal or timber like mukula trees (Pterocarpus angolensis). Trees are like slow animals; the only thing they cannot do is run away from danger when attacked.

Scientists are now investigating the possibility that root-to-root alerts could transform a forest into an organic control board. Considering that entire forests are all interconnected by networks of fungi, maybe plants are using fungi the way we use the internet and sending acoustic signals through this web.

Since creation trees are surrounded by biotic or natural enemies such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, insects, mammals and other herbivorous animals. Additionally, extreme weather and wildfires can also act as abiotic enemies. However, in his wisdom that surpasses human understanding God has provided special mechanisms through which trees survive these attacks. In defence, trees usually form what is called abscission layers on young active leaves following infection by bacteria, fungi or even a virus. Layers of cells surround the infected spots immediately after infection; these cells swell up and get lignified. The cells then become unsupported & eventually a gap is formed between the infected cells and the healthy cells at the site of infection. Protection is provided by preventing further of the pathogen (Kim and Kim, 2002). Other mechanisms most tree species use for protection is the exudation of gums around the injuries following infection by pathogens. The gums make an impenetrable barrier which encloses the pathogen completely. This, in turn, means that the pathogen starves and later dies.

Today, however, trees’ greatest enemy is not bacteria, fungi or virus but man. From God’s design and plan in genesis to New Testament through to modern biodiversity knowledge, man is tasked with a duty of providing stewardship to trees. Unfortunately, he has turned out to be trees’ greatest enemy. The increase of loss of trees can be attributed to several factors such as population growth which has posed a significant effect on demand for timber in the construction and manufacturing industries, construction and expansion of roads and towns, increased demand for food which has resulted in the clearing of more land for agricultural production. Statistics show that 15 million trees are lost every year in the name of development.

If we are to ensure a sustainable flow of wood and non-wood products and services while protecting and maintaining biodiversity for the present and future generations then there is need to stiffen laws and policies governing this important resource. Furthermore, there should be active participation by governments, all stakeholders and citizens in the conservation and management of trees. This should be backed by afforestation and reforestation practices where tree species such as solid bamboo are planted which take only about 4 years to mature and can be harvested thereafter for 15 years thereby alleviating pressure, damage and the risk of indigenous tree species going into extinction.

If man does not listen to the cries of these trees, trees will get tired of crying and will cry no more. This will certainly mark the beginning of man’s indefinite crying and distress from the effects of a “tree-less” environment such as disrupted ecosystems, water crisis, shortage of food and the list is endless. I, therefore wish to urge everyone to plant at least one tree this rain season, remember one person is too small a number to achieve great impact, there is a need for collective efforts to make this noble cause achievable.

Photo credit: Saytrees.org