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A History of Trees

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oak leafIn recent years, emphasis on ‘save the trees’ in the media, workplace and home has made huge progress in raising awareness and paving the way for change. However, despite the obvious advantages, constant exposure to this issue may have slightly desensitised us. What we need to keep in mind is that our close relationship with trees goes back further and deeper than most of us are aware. A bit of digging can unearth a fascinating plethora of uses our ancestors had for all different species of tree. Perhaps a greater awareness of these uses could encourage us to maintain this relationship, and look upon trees as an example of how organic and natural methods can still be relevant in today’s technological society.

One of the most fascinating aspects of past uses for trees is the science behind them. For example, elm was commonly used for coffins, as the wood does not rot in anaerobic conditions. On the other hand, alder rots easily, however, it burns well, making it ideal for charcoal. Ash is strong and flexible, leading to previous societies using it for weaponry, and the soft elasticity of lime made it perfect for rope. Additionally, lime blossom was used in tea during the war. The length of time taken by oak to grow may be considered a disadvantage in some situations, however, its ability to stave off rot for extremely long periods of time made it a good candidate for house construction.

Aside from practical usage, trees played a significant role in folklore and mythology. One of the most significant was the rowan tree. Greek mythology told that when the Goddess of youth gifted a challis of life-renewing elixir to the Gods, she carelessly lost the cup to the demons. The Gods, desperate for its safe return, sent an eagle to retrieve it. During the tussle, the eagle lost some of its feathers and blood, which tumbled down to the earth and became rowan trees. Even today, rowan trees are associated with protection and youthfulness.

It is clear that trees have played a significant role in the development of our society: to take a ‘chop chop’ approach seems incredibly disrespectful towards one of the resources we, as humans, have grown up with. In order to promote this attitude, approaches such as implementing ‘tree education’ in schools and through the media have been suggested. If an understanding of the ‘human aspects’ of forestry can be achieved, perhaps so too can an understanding of why protection of our trees is so important.

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