By Dr. Elsa Joel
Come Christmas and everyone has a bit of a tree decorating tradition in our homes, inside or in our gardens. When the Christmas tree is real, it feels merrier to make it glow like a bride. One look at the tree and our hearts swell with gratitude for life and peace.
Even though it is believed that the first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther, it’s always good to celebrate the 30-metre pine tree in a sunny back garden north-east of Bath. The Batheaston black pine is cherished and adored round the year for it’s the only surviving tree in the arboretum planted by women activists a century ago. Kudos to suffragettes Rose Lamartine Yates and Annie Kenney for planting this pine in 1909. According to records, at least 47 trees were planted to celebrate women fighting for the right to vote and conifers for those who were imprisoned. Among my family and friends, I come across women and girls who are more inclined and adept at being plant parents. Before any further research on this, I infer that women have been blessed with the foresight that evergreen pines will live to tell a story. Otherwise, would Dr. Cynthia Hammond offer potted ‘evergreen’ plants to Bath locals in exchange for information on feminist and activist history! Evergreens stand the test of time just as virtues do.
All year round, my aunt Mallika Suresh proudly flaunts her Bonsai Pine fir, conifers and Holly Berry shrub and trees- hardy to the sub-zero temperatures. Nothing, not even zero temperatures can beat down her enthusiasm when it comes to tending or pampering her plants, mostly the Bonsai pine fir. My mum’s golden cypress has always been her pride and love, given the manner in which she raised it and protected it from storms just like a watchful, concerned parent would protect her child. If there is one person I know who would always go that extra step to nurture a pond cypress, to watch it grow and change and to help it develop and sometimes struggle, that’s Karla Gottlieb. As their trees continue to grow and flourish in their own yards, proud plant parents are sure to enjoy the memories of a special holiday—living memories.
Blossom Fir, Fraser Fir, Doughlas Fir,Virginia Pine, Scotch Pine and White Spruce. Do these names ring a bell! These are nothing but evergreen conifers that give us a pinch of festive feel at home during Christmas. All of us prefer to have a Christmas tree as it’s a memorable aspect of an annual festive decoration and what’s more, they symbolize wisdom and longevity.
We are living in exciting times. The pace of change from real to fake is dizzying and the impact this progress is having on our present and future is difficult to comprehend in its entirety.
We never know when these real trees gave way to artificial customized ones with easy collapsibility and built-in lights, thereby jeopardizing the cultivation of these trees. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of Christmas trees I feel compelled to share a memory, vivid and fond. In that small village I grew up, people seemed enamored with the idea of growing their own Christmas trees. Every house had a Golden Cypress or Star Pine or Cook Pine with shoots almost strong enough to hold the Christmas lights and decorations. I don’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with a real Christmas tree but I’ve quite a few stories surrounding Christmas trees. People tended the trees, mostly on either side of their gates, throughout the year so that they looked perfect for Christmas.
In spite of the other plants and trees in the garden, the Christmas tree is a miracle to every kid in the household for different reasons. And to me, our golden cypress is the reason I fell in love with plants and trees as such and why they looked elegant and valuable to me. This potted ‘teardrop’ shaped beauty literally adorned our small garden with their bright golden-green, chartreuse colour. Those on garden ground, 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide were indeed a sight to watch.
Right from advent, this Christmas tree reared at home remained the center-piece of attraction with enthusiastic kids decorating it. One subtle message put across by elders was, the survival of any tree on earth is closely linked to the survival of every other Christmas tree. On a personal note, real trees are more about tradition, great smell and memories of growing them.
There are many more reasons as to why a Cypress is a must in our garden. A simple tea decoction of the needles in a particular dosage is known to be an effective remedy for asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory tract inflammations. Salve made from cones of these long living trees can directly treat health concerns like Athlete’s foot.
Christmas tree cultivation, a relatively new pursuit, is done in farms all over the world with Choose –and –Cut farms capturing people’s attention. Last year in America alone, almost eleven million families brought home a real tree for Christmas. Large tracts of lands in many western nations are being used to cultivate firs and pines which take almost 8-12 years, depending on the species and that means they take in CO2, filter air, remain rooted in soil and provide a home for birds and small mammals until they are harvested. Unused tracts of land if put to use will augur well because clearing forest lands of hardwoods and indigenous pine trees to make way for pine plantations doesn’t contribute much to contain global warming. According to experts, natural pine stands and hardwood forests store more carbon.
Christmas can in a way encourage parents to inculcate in children the love for plants by starting off with a sapling at home, in a garden patch or balcony that gets ready to be decked up at the end of the year, which is an added motivation. A live tree with intact roots is definitely better off than a cut tree. We assume we save trees from being cut down by switching over to artificial trees that also contain the dubious Polyvinylchloride known to release dioxins and other carcinogens. These artificial trees are our concern because they are manufactured almost exclusively in Asia.
We must know that these trees made of metal and plastic will be trashed someday in a landfill for the next 10 decades or so. Shouldn’t we be concerned that these can’t be recycled by most recycling programs! Every green champion is also aware that freighted goods have a higher CO2 tag attached to it. Sold in India, produced elsewhere isn’t a win-win choice. In contrast, cut trees just go back to earth if not composted or mulched. So, the ritual of picking up a cut-tree for the season need not bother us if we understand that it’s another crop, albeit one with a long rotation time, raised for a purpose, just in time. I don’t mean to say we give up on Christmas trees. We just need to be more conscious of our choices.
A live tree is much more than just a decorated tree and it’s also a reminder with the message to the generation of today, which is forgetting the core of ‘life and living’ itself. After all, nobody wants to hide a scent diffuser with pine essence in a corner. I still prefer the fragrance of the golden cypress I had as a child and so do my cousins, very few of them whose most enduring memories are intertwined with its scent too.
Let growing our own Christmas trees turn out to be the new ‘normal’. Grow one and you will come to know it not only binds family, but will tug at both sentimental and environmental heartstrings. Raising an evergreen is one of the most powerful things we can do to have a positive impact on our psyche because it prompts us to be kind to little birds with broken wings.
P.S. If you want a lush tree, hand the gloves to women.