We all know that trees are good things, useful for their wood, seeds, leaves, roots, bark or fruits as the case may be. But in fact they are more than that and in a real sense they confer immense benefits which we have yet to fully discover and exploit.
According to an article in the New York Times, Diana Beresford-Kroeger of Ontario, Canada, originally from Ireland, has made far-reaching, imaginative proposals that could bring a revolution in the way we live and grow fruits and crops, and use trees for a more healthy life.
Pointing to a tall wafer ash tree near her home, she explained that it was a chemical factory, and its products were part of a sophisticated survival strategy. The flowers contain terpene oils, which repel mammals from eating them. But the ash needs to attract pollinators, and so it emits a powerful lactone fragrance that appeals to large butterflies and honeybees. The chemicals in the wafer ash, in turn provide chemical protection for the butterflies from birds, making them taste bitter.
According to Diana Beresford-Kroeger, many similar unseen chemical relationships are going on in the world, as part of connectivity in nature. She considers herself a renegade scientist, however, because she tries to bring together aboriginal healing, Western medicine and botany to advocate an unusual role for trees.
She advocates a bio-plan, based of reforesting cities and rural areas with trees according to the medicinal, environmental, nutritional, pesticidal and herbicidal properties, in other words their eco-functions.
Wafer ash, for example, could be used in organic farming, planted in hedgerows to attract butterflies away from crops. Black walnut and honey locusts could be planted along roads to absorb pollutants, she said.
"Her ideas are a rare, if not entirely new approach to natural history," according to Professor Edward Wilson of Harvard. He points out that the science of selecting trees for different uses around the world has not been well studied.
The late British naturalist Miriam Rothschild praised Ms. Beresford-Kroeger's idea of bio-planning because it uses natural chemicals rather than synthetic ones.
Adoption of such methods could bring benefits in developing countries where the indiscriminate use of powerful pesticides is harming the health of the farmers, consumers, domestic animals as well as wildlife, apart from contributing to the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria, viruses and insect pests.
Diana Beresford-Kroeger's ideas could contribute to the green movement by promoting organic farming; in addition they could have beneficial effects on the health of people. After all, many medicines are waiting to be discovered in the tropical and temperate forests of the world. The possibilities are endless.