On the last Friday in April, conservation-minded citizens around the world celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees in their communities. In addition to providing the oxygen humans and other animals need to live, trees help conserve landscapes and waterways by preventing soil runoff. Arbor Day is an opportunity for us to recognize the importance of trees, which we may take for granted.
Friday marked the 145th celebration of the holiday in the United States, which was founded by J. Sterling Morton, a newspaper editor who later became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland. Held in Nebraska City, Nebraska, the first Arbor Day saw engaged citizens plant an estimated 1 million trees. These days, that number is a bit higher: The Arbor Day Foundation announced its 60 millionth tree planting in 2016.
And as people around the world take a moment to reflect on how cool trees are, we at Inverse would like to offer a slightly less rosy view of trees. Therefore, we present our list of fucked up things about trees.
5. This Tree Opened a Fucking Gate to Hell
It’s not the Eye of Sauron, but this tree in Mississippi sure looked like a great eye, lidless, wreathed in flame. Its insides blazed, baffling observers. In a previous interview, biologist Wally Smith explained to Inverse that the reason for the phenomenon wasn’t quite so sinister, but still startling: A lightning strike had probably set the insides aflame while moisture on the outside of the tree prevented the rest from burning.
4. This Fucking Tree Could Save the Chocolate Industry
Jackfruit trees produce a fruit that’s quite tasty, but its seeds aren’t normally very useful. Research from scientists in Brazil and the United Kingdom, however, show that jackfruit seeds could be a suitable replacement for cocoa. After tasting a powder made from the cured seeds, testers rated its flavor as strikingly similar to cocoa. With cocoa farmers struggling to keep up with international supply, this development could help ease their pain.
3. Cutting Your Own Christmas Tree Is Fucking Pointless
It may seem like a cool idea to go into the woods and cut your own tree for Christmas, but as Inverse previously discovered, Christmas trees are grown on farms for a good reason. If you want a bushy, cone-shaped conifer for your living room, it’s best to stick with a professionally cultivated tree like a Douglas fir, which has spent its entire life preparing for exactly that purpose. But if you want a tall, spindly, thin tree that won’t fit in your living room, go ahead and cut one down in the woods. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
2. Genetically Modified Trees Could Save the Fucking World
Carbon dioxide (CO2), produced by burning fossil fuels such as coal and gasoline, is a major factor driving human-caused climate change. Trees absorb CO2 and emit oxygen, but they can only handle so much. To capitalize on this natural tendency, scientists have proposed genetically modifying trees to handle more CO2 as a way to engineer our ways out of the pickle we’re in. It’s risky because there could be unintended consequences, but the risk of inaction is likely even greater.
1. Flat Earthers Aren’t Totally Fucking Wrong About Trees
Among the people who believe that the Earth is flat, an even crazier idea has taken root: Some believe that mountains are the remnants of giant ancient trees. They claim that the forests we now see are just the shrubs of an ancient world that’s been degraded. So while they’re definitely wrong about how mountains and forests are formed, they’re right that humans have irreparably shaped the Earth. In that sense, the Flat Earthers are somewhat sympathetic and relatable. How’s that for a fucked up tree fact?