The wisdom of trees

IF IT IS SAD to lose a tree that has stood in the Botanical Gardens for more than a century, it is sadder to think children are to blame.

The outcry over the fate of the eucalyptus that was reportedly vandalised last Thursday, underlines the seriousness of the incident which happened in one of the most important green spaces in the capital, and a stone’s throw from President’s House.

The public’s dismay is also a mark of changing attitudes. Gone are the days when only “tree-huggers” stood up for such causes. We need trees to breathe, yes, but many now also agree trees are part of our heritage.

Before the ill-fated year of 2020, this tree in question would have survived all manner of assault since first being planted around 1910.

Notwithstanding tremendous change – social, political, climate-related – around it, it would have grown taller, thicker, its bark smoother, its steeply-inclined limbs reaching higher and higher, as if in thrall to the sun. No more.

By the weekend, its hollow shell was felled and its roots dug up by a tractor. Some felt the tree could have been saved, though evidently the risk to passers-by and traffic was too great.

Notwithstanding the gravity of this loss, a balance must be struck between sending a strong message and showing compassion to the perpetrators.

Though our understanding of the circumstances remains limited, it has been said the minors involved were interviewed by police. Many have called for them to be assigned community service in lieu of formal proceedings. Others have suggested they should be involved in a replanting exercise. These are sensible suggestions.

But if authorities are called on to exercise good judgment in tackling acts of vandalism, they must also pay attention to long-standing issues.

Botanical gardens all over the world once served specific roles within colonial networks. As much about research as they were recreational, these spaces were nonetheless inherently bound up with the exercise of “soft power.”

Today, shorn of imperial overtones, they nonetheless remain historically important sites of leisure and education, useful for tourism – the Botanic Gardens of Port of Spain are over 200 years old – but also with the potential to enhance the quality of life of those who live here.

In this context, the Botanical Gardens have long been in need of rejuvenation and enhancements too. Though popular, some areas are neglected, signage worn or missing and there is a sense of stunted growth.

The year 2020 did bring a blessing: the gardens got a chance to come back to life in peace, suggesting a need for more care year-round. Recent storms have resulted in trees falling all over the city – the Savannah, Woodford Square and downtown – showing they are not as well looked after as they should be.

Papa Bois is surely displeased.


"The wisdom of trees"

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