Meeting with remarkable trees
REMARKABLE TREES is a monthly reflection on the old, the sacred, the mysterious and the poetic.
Although some of our travel distance restrictions have been lifted, when I first put pen to paper for this month’s tree, my best option was to stay close to home.
While wandering around the garden and contemplating on trees as a reflection of life, I noticed a large one previously very much taken for granted, like something you grew up with that became part of your furniture.
It is a Sweet Pittosporum (pittosporum undulatum).
Local from south-eastern Queensland to north-eastern Victoria, sweet pittosporum is considered a pest species in Manningham and neighbouring LGAs.
Despite this, the fine specimen on my parent’s property has been growing for 50 years now.
Over the years, all its offspring have been removed as they can spread rapidly via the digestive tracts of birds who enjoy its berries.
So what is it about sweet pittosporum that suits this particular time?
Adjusting to “COVID life” during the last two years and being a mindfulness meditation practitioner, there has been endless opportunity to reflect on my thoughts and attitude towards others.
Recently in group discussion, we agreed we have felt challenged by vax versus anti-vax, mask versus no mask, those who appear to throw caution to the wind and consequently initiate yet another lockdown, and more recently, protests spattered with anger and violence.
I am quick to disapprove initially, because like many, I am a bit fed up.
Following up with my friends however, I am startled.
Some of them have charged headlong down the conspiracy road.
Others insist on the dangers of vaccination and produce “evidence” to support this.
Some have been abusive because I chose to vaccinate while others who have well-considered their choices and taken responsibility for them could not have been more respectful of my own.
Certainly, life can deliver surprises.
In pondering with the latter friends, we ruminated on attitudes that seem to be manifesting in the world at large; the polarising divisiveness that omits a certain kind of poison into society that excludes all who differ in belief.
Hence my attention is drawn to sweet pittosporum.
Somewhere in my learning I adopted the belief that pittosporum was poisonous.
I believed it omitted a toxin that prevented other plants from growing. I thought the leaves were poisonous when in water, preventing all pond life from thriving.
In considering this, I realised I could have been wrong all along, and that what mattered was to find recent, well- presented, peer-reviewed research done by qualified people.
In pursuit of this, I find that sweet pittosporum indeed has a substance some other native plants don’t like, but has no more poison than any other tree that absorbs nutrition from soil such that nothing else can easily grow underneath it.
Instead, I find it is the protective shade of its dense, dark green canopy that discourages other plants from taking seed.
As a tree, it presents a conventional, storybook shape of being broader than it is tall.
It’s laurel-like leaves are thick, strong and glossy, and as it expands with the energy of spring, the tips manifest as swirls of bright, enthusiastic freshness.
While in bloom, it expresses a profusion of creamy, bell-shaped flowers that fill the breeze with the sweet, heady perfume.
The bees respond, and beckoned by curiosity, I lean into the hum of honey production and the busyness of the bee world in action.
Later in the month I can expect clusters of bright orange fruits that reveal a sticky red interior with black seeds — a food source for birds and mammals.
Far from being poisonous, it unfolds its benefit to others and proves to be as much a part of the bigger picture as any other tree.
So here is the interesting part.
Some authorities declared it as not noxious in Victoria while others state it is a significant environmental weed, which returns me to opinions that I’m sure most of us have had around all things COVID.
I’m guessing we all have opinions about who or what is noxious or significantly pesky in our society.
But come closer to home.
In asking me to check in, this fine- looking piece of sweet pittosporum garden furniture, makes me consider again and again what my own thoughts and actions create in the world.
In disapproving of those with different ideas, I run the risk of categorising them as a toxic pest and therefore unbeneficial to society.
In resisting them, I mirror the very resistance I disapprove of, thereby becoming complicit in the divisiveness I don’t want.
This supposedly-toxic tree on my home ground presents the challenge of our times; to question fully our opinions and reactions and to act with the utmost integrity, care and skilful means regarding our values and the society we want to create.
Jennah is captivated by the quiet presence of trees and is currently training to facilitate Forest Therapy.
If you have a favourite tree you’d like to share, please email her email@example.com