Monday, May 18, 2009

Tree Biology 101

On Friday I went to see Richard C. Murray's lecture at Brookside Gardens. Murray has just come out with a new book on tree biology, a kind of primer or reference notebook on this enormous, leafy topic titled, Tree Biology Notebook, An Introduction to the Science and Ecology of Trees.

Murray's lecture was great. The room was not packed, but as Murray himself quipped, anyone who is willing to sit through an hour lecture on tree biology for the fun of it is hardcore. Those that did attend stayed all the way through. It was anything but boring, with fun metaphors, and lots of tree parts to touch and feel and examine. He opted for a "no slide" presentation, and instead brought in a truck load of wood samples and held them up as he talked, using actual branches, stumps and twigs to illustrate his various points. The windows behind were open to the lovely view of Brookside's leafy hills, and that in itself proved illustrative a few times during the talk, as the he would point to certain trees for examples of growth habits or community groups or leaf patterns.

"Trees are my mentors," he said at one point early in the talk, noting that theyare more relevant now than ever given climate change and the emphasis on carbon sequestration.

Surprisingly, to explain how a tree functions and how it operates, he asked the audience to "think of a tree as a biological business," which manages its commodities, builds partnerships, and manipulates and specializes as it grows.

His book is worth buying, but this is not one for coffee table or nightstand. Rather, this is a reference book or refresher for those who work outside often. In fact, I would hope that some one connected with Montgomery County Master Gardening would make some of the chapters required reading. The sections on roots and the rhizosphere cover territory which is all too often ignored by those who do garden makeovers. Too many trees are lost at the root zone, when people mess around under their trees.

The book is for sale now at Brookside Gardens, and also at Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase.

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