Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ficus benjamina comosa

See what happens when I complain about not having anything to blog about? Suddenly a Cause brings itself to my attention, and refuses to be ignored. I am on a crusade to save a tree.

My favorite tree on campus is a massive comose fig tree with multiple trunks that curve around one another to support a graceful canopy of little green leaves and marble-sized yellow fruit. (The species is known as "weeping fig" for its sweeping habit.) Probably as a result of strategic pruning, its several enormous trunks do not meet, but frame a complex, baroquely shaped negative space in its interior, edged with buttresslike roots. It is a spectacular tree.

comosefig1

This is a general view of the tree, which fails to do it justice because of the shrinking effect of the wide-angle setting I used on the camera. Better is this shot of just the trunks, although even here the angle was not quite right to capture its spacious enclosure.

comosefig2

As it turns out, this tree was planted on campus by the botanist-explorer Joseph Rock, the first official botanist of the Territorial government, and later to become a preeminent specialist on the botany of southwest China, especially Yunnan, where he also did important early ethnographic and ethnolinguistic work with the Nakhi. It is said that the novel Lost Horizon, the source for the idea of Shangri-la, was inspired by his adventures in the Himalayan foothills.

Now, it is in danger of being cut down as part of the Campus Center expansion.

The original architect's plan for this expansion took the tree into account, building up to it but leaving it in situ. But some political objections led to the powers that be (not the architects, actually) rotating the expansion ninety degrees so that the narrower width, which would have spared the tree, was exchanged with its length, and the tree has to go.

I occupy a building whose design was fundamentally altered to spare a monumental baobab tree that was slated to be cut down in construction. I know it can be done. What I'm having trouble with is figuring out who to complain to. I signed a petition the other day to save the fig tree. Now I need somewhere to take it further. As my friend Greg said, "Even if you don't care about nature, a hundred-year-old tree is not something to be tossed aside lightly." And he's right. Many of us will not live so long ourselves. This is not just botany; it's history, and a history we can't afford to destroy at our whim.

1 comment: