Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Trees, Dinosaurs, and Us

In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv argues persuasively that children need the natural world (some of my favorite blogs make the same argument from a mom's point of view--here and here, for example).

But we are currently living in the center of a town of 144,000 people. We spent the last year living in the center of a city of 400,000. In the US we live in the center of a city of 800,000 people. And I love living in downtown areas! But where do I take my children when we need dirt?

Luckily for us, we are very close here to the beautiful Jardin Lecoq, a lovely city park. It is carefully manicured, as you might expect of a French park, but Isaac and Eleanor and I decided to each choose a tree that we can visit throughout the summer.

If you're making a friend, even with a tree, it's only polite to learn its name. So we've been trying to figure out who our trees are.

I picked this beauty. We used this user-friendly tree identification guide (even though it's based on Ohio trees) and decided that mine is a beech tree, probably a copper beech.

Trying to confirm that mine was indeed a copper beech, we stumbled on a blog about trees (which now, sadly, I can't find) and before we found the beech photo we were looking for, we found a photo of Isaac's tree!

This oddball tree is called Monkey's Puzzle (or in French, d├ęsespoir des singes--monkey's despair) because it would puzzle a monkey to know how to climb it. The tree is spikes all over. 

Monkey's Puzzle trees have been around since Jurassic times. The theory is that the tree developed the spikes to discourage dinosaurs from grazing on it! It grows in Chile and Argentina where indigenous tribes still eat its nuts (kind of like pine nuts) and use its wood.

Isaac has written a little song about it:
Monkey's puzzle is a spiky tree, spiky tree, spiky tree.
Monkey's puzzle is a spiky tree, and monkeys cannot climb it.

Eleanor chose an impressive tree, the tallest one in the park, we think.  We had a really hard time figuring out what it is, but I think we've finally cracked the case.

A Giant Sequoia! Native to California, it was first planted in Europe in 1853 and since has spread across Europe. One estimate is that there are 10,000 giant sequoias in Europe. Eleanor's tree has an even older history than Isaac. Sequoia fossils have been found with the earliest dinosaurs in the Triassic period. 

How perfect is it that my kids happened to both choose dinosaur trees?

(The photos on this website were what finally convinced me on the Giant Sequoia ID. This site and this one  tell about the history of the Giant Sequoia in Europe, and this site has photos of them all over the world.)

1 comment:

g said...

I love your idea of having each child choose a tree. It opens their eyes to actually *see* the amazing things the world has to offer.