The Body Language of Trees
I have a small white scar on my elbow. It’s from a dog bite I got on my newspaper route in 7th grade. I’ve long imagined throwing a “scar party,” in which my guests take turns describing the marks left on their bodies by events that might have been otherwise forgotten.
So, what about trees — what of their history can we read from their bodies?
On a recent walk in Liberty Park, I noticed an odd branch on a small maple tree that started growing horizontally but then took a sharp vertical turn. A raised circular collar of scar tissue revealed that the branch above it had broken off. In response, the lower branch grew upward instead of outward, a record of an earlier injury.
Mountain trees strategically grow different types of wood that resolve the stresses imposed by wind and heavy snow loads. A spruce tree grows "tension wood" on its trunk's uphill side and wider-ringed "compression wood" on its lower side, which creates a big bellied trunk to let the tree straighten up and stand tall.
One tree that silently conveys its history is the 70-year-old Cedar of Lebanon that stands at the east entrance to Salt Lake City's Temple Square. Years ago, the tree survived a potentially fatal blow when a chunk of ice fell from the temple's roof, completely shearing off the tree’s top. Gardeners guided a lateral branch to grow vertically, leaving a distinct wiggle in its trunk.
But any time you walk in our city or forests, take a moment to appreciate the body language of trees. Without words, the arc of a branch or the slant of a trunk reveals that trees can survive damage and carry on living — their scars giving voice to their stories.