With the sap rising in the swamp and the trees leafing out I'm reminded of a comment my dad made years ago when we were out on one of our walks. We were discussing what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told him that I wanted to be an artist. As a seven year old infatuated with pastels, drawing birds with long, intricate wings and tails made of gold and silver, I was convinced that becoming an artist would make the best use of my skills. I added that if I were a scientist like him I wouldn't be able to use my imagination! My comments struck a nerve in him and he announced, "What do you mean, scientists don't have imagination?" And knowing how much I loved trees he added, "You know, whenever I look at a tree, I see more that just branches and leaves...I see a fountain!" A fountain? He had me hooked. And so began my love affair with science and art!
How can a tree become a fountain? Just under the bark of the tree there is a layer of tissue called the cambium layer. There are tube like structures called xylem growing just under the cambium layer of the tree that extend from the roots all the way up to the leaves. If you have ever eaten celery then you are intimately familiar with these stringy parts. Together with water pressure and the evaporation from the leaves the water travels to every part of the plant. The water carried by the xylem to the leaves is a necessary ingredient together with light and carbon dioxide to make food for the plant in the form of simple sugars such as glucose. So, right next to the xylem, growing towards the bark, there are another set of tube like structures called the phloem. They are responsible for bringing those sugars made in the green parts of the plant to every growing part. When plants go dormant, the food that was produced in the fall as sugar retreats and is stored below ground. In the spring with longer daylight hours the sap begins to rise and new growth appears.
As each tree, shrub, fern, or wildflower in the swamp begins to leaf out, they bring with them their own palette of colors and textures and in my imagination...unique fountain sprays. The subsequent light that filters through them and the wildlife sounds like music. A forest is a spectacular sight when you think of all that movement and sound going on, each plant with its own unique rhythm. Add the bird songs as the melodies and you are in a magical place!