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Trees and humans have so much in common

Painting by Alain Massicotte
Trees and humans have so much in common

Trees, like humans, are relational beings. They need a multitude of other living organisms to keep on going, to grow, to reproduce.

Under the rich forest humus, for example, trees have forged alliances since the dawn of time with microscopic filamentous fungi. These stick to tree roots and extend root systems to help them extract water and nutrients from the soil and convey it to the highest leaves. Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and a lot more are involved. In exchange, the fungi collect a portion of the energy produced by the photosynthesis of the trees. A whole network of interrelationships, invisible to our eyes, resonates and expands beneath our feet: the organic Internet.

Above ground, many trees and shrubs – the cherry tree, the serviceberry, the hawthorn, the wild plum - also need pollinating insects. Without those modest but indispensable critters to feed from their flowers, there’s no exchange of pollen, and no plant regeneration.

Among themselves, trees also exchange a lot of chemical information. Here’s an example: when grazed on by hungry deer, a number of young tree stems will emit volatile organic compounds, alerting their colleagues in the area. These will boost the tannin level of their foliage, which will then prove less attractive to herbivores.

A cooperative exhibition on trees

Like trees, humans are relational, cooperation-oriented beings. In creating the exhibition Three for Trees, being presented until October 31 at the Frédéric Back Tree Pavilion, painter Alain Massicotte, physician François Reeves and biologist Michel Leboeuf engaged in a close dialogue – a trialogue - exchanging ideas and material.

To bring it off and to present it properly, they also needed other people – from the Tree Pavilion and from the Botanical Garden, but also museology students and their teachers from Collège Montmorency. An organic, cooperative approach, exactly like what happens deep in the woods among living organisms.

Three for Trees is an exhibition of interrelationships, an ecosystem expo. Its subject – the relational, cooperative tree - merges with its creative process; its creative process merges with its subject. “The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan, the guru of Canadian media, said in 1964. That formula, which has not aged a bit, fits this trialogue, this multidialogue about trees, like a glove.

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