Arbor Day

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(HOST)Commentator Ruth Page offers an appreciation of the variety and profound reassurance of trees in all of our lives as Vermont Arbor Day approaches, this coming Friday.

(PAGE) Vermont’s Arbor Day is this Friday, May 6. National Arbor Day was last Friday. Arbor Days honor the trees that make up many of the richest, loveliest, most reassuring scenes on our planet.

There’s one tree on earth (in Madagascar only, like so many very special plants) that makes me think of the ancient fern-type trees. It’s the so-called Traveler’s Tree. Its base looks much like the base of a banana tree; it’s formed of emerging, tight-wrapped leaves. The first to spread into branches stick out to both sides, the next pair open just above them and so on, as long as the tree grows. Eventually, it’s a huge fan, with long branches and 10-foot-long wide, fringed leaves. It’s flat like a fan, looking as if it were born already espaliered. The “fan tree” is one of the few on earth pollinated by a primate; the little red-ruffed lemur gets generous rewards of nectar from flowers with large nectaries.

Leaves, fruits and even the bark of many trees and bushes are sources for a wide variety of medications, many discovered by native people in tangled rain-forest growth. The sandbox tree offers delicious, but poisonous, fruit. Scarlet macaws in Peru out-wit the poison of the unripe fruit by eating a clay from the river banks before lunching. The clay neutralizes the poison so the birds can enjoy both the flesh and seeds of the fruit.

A bit of exotica that we have many of in this country is the handsome ginkgo tree. It’s an ancient native of China, which flourished during the lives of the dinosaurs and was later carefully preserved by early Chinese emperors. It’s so hardy it thrives along some streets in downtown Burlington, Vermont that are constantly bombarded by the exhaust from passing cars, acid rain and whatever else the environ- ment pours their way.

Each ginkgo leaf is a little green fan. The fans can grow right out of the trunk or branches. Ginkgo extract has been used by the Chinese for millennia to slow dementia and for numerous other health needs. The extract is available in this country. Scientists have made a drug, Egb 761, for dementia here and in Europe. Tests suggest that it may slow dementia somewhat, but it’s no cure.

On Arbor Day, when we in Vermont celebrate our beautiful maples, oaks, sycamores, beeches and evergreens, it’s a pleasure to recall that our favorites would be exotica in some southern hemisphere countries.

The beautiful greenery of a large, undamaged forest is one of the greatest comforters of the human soul. When wanderers find oases in vast deserts, they feel a heart-lift long before they drink the cool water under the trees.

This is Ruth Page of Shelburne.

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