| The Life & Love of Trees, Lewis Blackwell, Chronicle Books (2009)

Photographer: Richard Mack | Image Permalink

Photographer: Art Wolfe | Image Permalink

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Photographer: Will and Deni McIntyre | Image Permalink

The Pillars of the Earth

This long gallery of hybridized, fast-growing poplar trees on a Californian tree farm is reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral, a structure that testifies to the human spirit’s perseverance through time. Trees themselves might become living memorials in the vision of one speculative biotech venture, called Biopresence, which plans to mingle portions of a deceased loved one’s DNA with tree genomes.

Immortal Beings

The smooth white trunk of Populus tremuloides, or “Quaking Aspen,” hides a secret. The ghostly stems glowing in the Alaskan Tanana River Valley spring from the same dense network of roots and have identical DNA, making them part of a clonal colony. While individual stems are short-lived, some colonies may have preserved the same genetic information for as long as 80,000 years, making the aspen one of the longest-lived organisms on Earth.

Adapting to the Cold

Once restricted to warm coastal flood plains, trees have evolved ways to survive prolonged harsh winters—like those found in Japan’s northern-most island, Hokkaido. To survive such extreme cold requires thwarting the formation of ice crystals in tissues. Trees do this either by dehydrating their cells, or by meticulously purifying their water to discourage crystal formation. This effect, called “supercooling,” allows water in the
cells to remain liquid at temperatures as low as -38 C.

Polymer Lace

More than 90 percent of the matter that makes up trees was once water and free-floating atmospheric carbon dioxide. A tree’s cells synthesize sugars from these raw materials via photosynthesis. These sugars are subsequently linked up to form the structural polymers, such as cellulose and lignin, which compose wood and bark. The Chinese evergreen Pinus bungeana, also known as Lacebark Pine and prized as an ornamental, sheds its outermost layers at around 10 years of age to reveal multi-colored patches beneath.

Autumnal Death Throes

As daylight dwindles and temperatures drop in this forest in Perthshire, Scotland, beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) switch into power-saver mode. Photosynthesis shuts down, halting the production of chlorophyll in leaves. In the absence of the green pigment, other colorful chemicals take center stage. Underlying carotenoids give off a yellow hue, while anthocyanins, produced late in the summer and throughout fall, are responsible for the vibrant reds and purples.

The Cradle of Life

This Amazon River tributary snakes through one of the last tropical rainforests on Earth. Such forests occupy a small, shrinking fraction of the Earth’s land surface—every second, a hectare or two are cleared—yet they’re still a haven for more than half of the world’s biodiversity, as a single hectare can harbor up to three hundred species of trees. For Blackwell, this places them “at the center of life on earth while most of us are out on the margins.”

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A Green World

By Cristina Luiggi / December 17, 2009

Our relationship with trees goes back to our evolutionary roots—way back to when our ancestors thrived in the green canopy above. Perhaps that is why long after we have climbed down their trunks we still gaze at trees in awe. Lewis Blackwell—writer, artist, environmentalist, and former creative director of Getty Images—celebrates this relationship in The Life & Love of Trees. With a collection of stunning photography from around the world—from cypress enclaves in Tuscany’s wheat fields, to the coast-dwelling mangroves of Indonesia and frozen skeletal structures in the Japanese tundra— Blackwell blends visual poetry with thought-provoking reflections on one of the most successful kinds of organisms and the ties that bind us to them.

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