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Do trees eat bicycles? All about edaphoecotropism: what does this mean?


Well yes, and no... trees don't really eat bicycles but they look as if they might! They can grow around objects, the most common of which are metal fences.

The living tree has the most amazing capacity for self-repair and it will simply incorporate foreign objects into its structure. This act of edaphoecotropism, as it is called, is not harmful to the tree. The living tissue of the tree itself simply flows around an object and engulfs it. In so doing, the tree binds itself to the item and the connection actually becomes stronger as time passes. If you were to carve back the tree, you would find that the item inside will still be perfectly formed, not eaten but merely consumed!

You can clearly see how this young oak tree has engulfed the iron fence against which it was growing. There have been incidences of trees engulfing bicycles, including what has become known as the bicycle tree, close to a former blacksmith's shop in Brig O'Turk, Trossachs, Scotland. Not only did this sycamore tree 'eat' a bike which was left propped against it, possibly when its owner went off to war, but it is believed the tree has also swallowed an anchor and a horse's bridle.

Great trees

There's no doubt that trees are remarkable living things. The oldest specimen is believed to be a Pinus longaeva, bristlecone pine, growing in the Inyo National Forest, California. Experts have dated this tree to an age over 5000 years old. The oldest tree in the UK is said to be a yew, Taxus baccata, situated in a churchyard in Perthshire, Scotland (the region is pictured below). This particular tree is estimated to have lived for up to 3000 years.

The time around 3000 years' ago sits within the middle Bronze Age period when copper and bronze were used by prehistoric Britons in order to make tools. Agriculture was just being used for food production and monuments at Avebury and Stonehenge were built. It's amazing to think that just a rare few veteran trees that still survive today might have been around when Stonehenge was built (pictured below). 

Why are trees so great, in all senses of the word?


They are actually vital to the planet, being the biggest plants of all. They provide oxygen, store carbon, anchor the soil and provide stability. They act as wind-breaks, provide life for wildlife, filter water and air, absorb pollution and provide materials for shelter, tools and warmth.

Ancient and modern  we need more

People are beginning to realise that we need more woodland. The value of trees is beginning to be recognised. New woodlands are few and far between, with figures showing that numbers are well below recommended targets. Data from the Forestry Commission reveals that only 1500 hectares (3,700 acres) of woods were planted in England during 2017, and this is well below the 5000 hectares which has been recommended by the Government.

Young trees, teenage trees, old and veteran trees, we need them all!

Tree protection

Our protection of ancient woodland has been very poor up until now, but this is set to change as the true value of trees is realised.  Experts say that veteran trees are 'irreplaceable'. Ancient woodland takes hundreds of years to establish. The ancient woodland classification applies to any area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600AD.  In addition, The National Planning Policy Framework protects ancient wood pastures, historic parkland and other heritage assets.

This ancient hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), above,  sits on the Scotney Castle estate in Kent. Experts believe that the tree is more than 500 years old.

Planning permission and trees

Veteran,ancient and aged trees have great cultural, historical and landscape importance and they are now highlighted as part of the planning application process. Council members often advise the refusal of planning permission for developments which necessitate the felling of such trees.

The Northern Forest plan

The Woodland Trust has long called for flexible programmes providing grants for small and larger areas of woodland creation. At last the Government has published a 25 Year Environment Plan to kick start the creation of a Northern Forest and made it easier for landowners to apply for various grant schemes.

Garden trees are valuable too! Almost everyone can plant a tree, even if they only have a courtyard or a balcony. Those people with a garden can help the greater cause. Every garden should have a tree! You can plant container-grown trees during summer provided you water regularly or wait until the bare root season to keep costs and maintenance down. If you really don't want a tree, consider a large shrub. There is value in any amount of greenery, however small. 

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By Perfect Plants


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