In What Makes a Tree a Tree? at Knowable Magazine, Rachel Ehrenberg writes about how difficult it is to really define what a tree is, despite the many variables scientists consider.
We think we know what trees are, but they slip through the fingers when we try to define them.
According to geneticist David Neale of UC Davis, trees basically have the same genomic stuff as herbaceous plants.
Trees are big, they’re woody, they can get water from the ground to up high. But there does not seem to be some profound unique biology that distinguishes a tree from a herbaceous plant.
Of all their qualities, from woodiness to height, the ability to live a really long time —indefinite growth—may be what makes them unique.
Ehrenberg proposes a rather metaphysical re-definition:
So maybe it’s time to start thinking of ‘tree’ as a verb, rather than a noun — tree-ing, or tree-ifying. It’s a strategy, a way of being, like swimming or flying, even though to our eyes it’s happening in very slow motion. Tree-ing with no finish in sight — until an ax, or a pest, or a bolt of Thanksgiving lightning strikes it down.
When we look out of our window at the trees in the park beyond, our view seems even bigger for seeing trees as verb…
It’s a strategy, a way of being, like swimming or flying, even though to our eyes it’s happening in very slow motion. Tree-ing with no finish in sight…
Viewed in this way, the portraits of trees in our favorite tree books gain new resonance. Check out our posts about Beth Moon’s Ancient Trees, Portraits in Time, and Mitch Epstein’s New York Arbor.