Culture

A Tree Grows In Venice: The Red Flowering Gum Tree – by Krista Schwimmer

Red Flowering Gum With Bees (2)One of my fondest memories from childhood is going to the library with my two brothers and mother.
No matter how plain the library looked, I soon learned there were treasures there. So, whenever I move to area, I seek out the nearest library.
For eighteen years, I have been browsing and borrowing from the Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library. There, I have also bought many a bargain book at their fund raising book sales, as well as visited with the Venice Canal ducks and their ducklings. (Sadly, however, these ducks do not frequent the library or the canals as much as before. Another tale, for another Beachhead.)
Recently, while taking my usual library route south on Riviera Avenue, I came across a most magnificent tree, just shouting with clusters of red flowers. With the help of a co-worker, Sol, at Mystic Journey Bookstore where I work, I managed to identify this tree as a Red Flowering Gum Tree, more formally known as Corymbia ficifolia.
Native to Western Australia, this species of trees prefers infertile, sandy soils. It is particularly great for streets as the species is hardy, moderate, fast-growing, and low maintenance. At seven years old, a Red Flowering Gum flowers. Between fifteen and twenty years old, it reaches full size. If residing on your block, Corymbia ficifolia will befriend you and your grandchildren or more, as it lives for hundreds of years.
I was so struck by the clusters of red blossoms that I practically stuck my nose in them. They were humming with bees! For several years now, I have been growing concerned about the decline of bees.
Red Flowering Gum 3Recently, I discovered that conservationists and scientists alike think a significant reason for this decline is the use of neonicotinoids. When used on plants, neonicotinoids stay in the plant itself, making it toxic to insects. i According to the Xerces Society, when honey bees are exposed to sublethal levels of neonicotinoids, they can “experience problems with flying and navigation, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower learning of new tasks, which all impact foraging ability.”ii Looking at my new tree friend, I sincerely hoped that the bees feasting here were only tasting pure and unadulterated nectar.
The more I write about the trees in Venice, the more I realize that trees have marked significant moments in my life. After my brother, David, was lost at sea during an Outward Bound kayaking course in the Sea of Cortez, I went on an outdoors adventure myself. It was during my freshman year at Duke University. Part of me was following in my brother’s footsteps. I knew he had close friends in the program. Perhaps, through these friends of his, I could find a part of my brother I never knew.
Started in 1974, this student run program is called Project WILD (Wilderness Initiatives for Learning at Duke.) For two weeks, freshman students hike in the Pisgah National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains. More than just an outdoors program, the program seeks to build leadership and friendship in unusual ways. When I took the course, it included a ropes course; a climbing day; trust building exercises; and two weeks finding our way, with map and compass, through the Appalachian mountains to different destinations. Each crew had two student trained leaders and around 10 students. I can’t remember how many crews there were; but there were quite a few.
Project WILD also included a two day solo in the woods, right before returning to civilization.
Although the instructors were not far, we were left alone overnight, with no other person visible by sight or sound. This was a time, too, when there were no mobile phones of any kind.
I ended up beside Groger Creek. I immediately found a strong tree to support me. Although I don’t recall the species now, I remember how comfortable the tree felt against my back. I spent many hours against this trunk, thinking about my loss, about the beauty around me, and falling in a semi trance at times. I had never slept alone in the woods before; having that tree, however, made me feel safe and peaceful.
I kept a journal at that time, a practice I do to this day. Although the entries are brief, they reflect the immediate strength I found by being in nature. One entry starts: “Ahhh, to be in the open, sheltered only by the green freshness of leaves, wondering who cut out the many small patches for the sky to peep through . . . So many shades of green peer down on me . . . cool shadow green so moist that one could drink the dew off the leaf of the color . . .” In a second entry, I note: “how the water curls quickly around the larger stones and then flows freely in ripples beyond my area. I wonder how far this water has been and what many, many places it has seen.”
Looking back at my eighteen year old self, I am surprised to see how much peace she was able to find amidst the tragedy of sudden loss. Although the spirit of my brother led me to Project WILD, my own spirit knew that returning to nature would restore my soul, and prepare me for the long journey of grief ahead of me.Red Flowering Gum 2
The benefits of trees, however, are just as great in cities as they are in mountains. Take my new friend, Red Gum, for instance. Red Gum is a street tree. Street trees have some wonderful and unique benefits to communities. So much so, that urban planners consider them to be the most important factor in the design of urban landscapes.iii Called green infrastructure, street trees minimize traffic noise, increase property values up to 25%, lower temperatures, and provide numerous mental health benefits.iv
Whether in cities or in mountains, trees are vital for humans, animals, birds, insects, and more. One Amazon Indian tribe believes that forest trees hold up the sky. So much so, that if the trees fall, so will life on earth.v Let’s heed the wisdom of indigenous people before it’s too late. A simple friendship with a neighborhood tree can lead all of us to a more conscious and kind relationship to these magnificent beings.
Do you have a favorite tree in Venice? Submit your stories (1200 words or less) and photos to the Free Venice Beachhead at free@venicebeachhead.org
i From Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, http://www.xerces.org
ii Ibid
iii From “100 Tree Facts”, http://bit.ly/1WbrHW7
iv Ibid
v Ibid

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