- Defense, Energy

A Tree’s Defense

As humans, we all enjoy being able to pick up and go wherever we desire in life. Whether we get somewhere by walking, running, riding a bike, driving a car, or taking a plane. In fact, this very basic part of our existence is absolutely taken for granted, don’t you agree?

Imagine being a tree. A tree is literally stuck in the location that it was originally planted forever. Can you perceive this? You’d better get used to your surroundings and environment rather quickly if you’re a tree, and become truly adaptive.

This reading will explain the functions of how a tree allocates its resources to survive healthy and vigorously. Including how a tree defends itself in its solitude environment; especially if a tree has the raw end of the deal. For example, if a tree has grown very close to a place that disposes waste material, or it’s a city tree next to a busy street with concrete covering its root system.

Let us start by understanding the basics of a tree. A tree is a woody plant. There are many species of trees, categorized in 2 types – deciduous (mostly hardwoods) and conifers (evergreens). Just like us, trees must have sun, water, and nutrients to survive. You have probably heard that without trees, our environment would become toxic quickly. Trees take in carbon dioxide and emit valuable oxygen. Yes, that’s right – trees are natural air filters. Over the past decade, we have come a long way to scientifically understand a tree. From this information, we have realized that trees have a biological make up that make them very dynamic. They are made up of much more than just a crown, trunk, and roots.

Trees allocate their resources in 4 primary functions;

  • Maintenance
  • Growth
  • Storage
  • Defense

If a tree has to deal with toxic waste and poor soil conditions, it still has to maintain itself. A tree gets its energy from photosynthesis. A tree uses energy for regular procedures such as seed formation and dropping.

Trees grow optimally when they have all the elements that they need and are not stressed. If a tree does not have adequate water, light, and nutrients it will not likely dedicate too many resources toward new growth. Proper soil PH balance, soil conditions (acidity), and availability of resources are critical in the growth process.

Trees obtain nutrients, and water from the ground using their fibrous roots. If essential minerals and water are not available in the quantities necessary, a tree will concentrate on storing essential elements for later use. For example, if a tree does not have sufficient water it will store water to get through drought spells.

A tree will allocate its resources to defense if it is getting most of what it needs, and is not stressed. Soil and environmental conditions determine whether a tree is stressed or not. If a tree is not stressed, it will likely be in a preventative maintenance mode and will focus on defense. For example, a tree can focus on thickening its bark layer to protect its vascular cambium from outside predators. Did you know that a tree produces chemicals to defend itself from other competitors? Yes, a tree will send warning signals to its surrounding opponents whether it is a plant, insect, or other close by organism. If a physical wound occurs, a tree compartmentalizes. Remember, humans heal and trees seal!

A tree is truly a genius in the process of making something out of nothing, or coming up with a way to survive in harsh conditions. It cannot just walk into a doctor’s office and ask for an antibiotic. It does not have an immune system to fight a virus. But a tree will produce chemicals, and close off its vascular system to outside organisms if being intruded. If a stressor (usually environmental) is too much for a tree to overcome, then it will go into decline and potentially even die. In our famous street tree example above, with lack of available water or nutrients nearby – the root system of that tree will sense resources from far away and start growing its roots more progressively to one area or direction toward the available elements.

So next time you drive or walk by a tree, take a good look at it. Understand its ability to survive even in low tolerable conditions. Think about its ability to go through all the daily functions in the spot that it stands. Take a look around at nearby obstacles such as construction sites, chemical exposures, insects, geographic makeup. Appreciate a tree’s ability to live in a confined nature, and how it can defend itself even without being able to get up and walk out of harm’s way.