Banquet Piece, Pieter Claez

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Plants and our Brains

Where I live in California, people often dislike certain trees, one type in particular, because they do not look like they belong here. (You know who I'm talking about, Canary Island ornamental date palm!). However, most trees in our city are not from California. They are from China, India, Africa, South America, Lord Howe's Island, Italy, Paraguay, etc. etc. etc.  Only by the grace of our industrious jays do we have native trees in our yards. And those are usually pulled out and put into the green bin.

So why do some trees look like they belong here and some don't? Why does a deodar cedar look okay on our streets when it is from the Himalayas? Why do camphor trees look ok when they are from China? Why do liquidambars look good here even though they are from the rainy summer East coast and usually living in a forest?

It is fascinating that some trees look 'right' here in the city and some trees look 'wrong'. One of my teachers thinks that our tiny baby brains were imprinted with our first landscapes - broadleaf forests or lush grasslands or wide open dry spaces. Every place we go, we compare the landscape in front of us with that internal landscape of our baby minds.

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As a hiker of our east bay hills from a very early age, I've come to love our grasslands with oaks and bays and the golden hills of the summer and the anticipation of the first green blades of grass in winter. I look forward to the tarweeds at the end of the summer and the first poppies popping. The manazanitas blooming in winter. The first ephemeral wild flowers.  (yes, I know that our grasslands are mostly not native and that bugs me and the stinkwort and other invasives, don't get me started!)

So how did all of these strange plants end up here? It's a grand story of plant migration that is the story of human migration - bad and good. That's for a future post!


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