Lessons from Trees

Trees have been on earth for a long time, long before animals and humans. Science has determined that human beings as a species are relatively young, merely 300,000 years in existence. We still have a lot to learn from nature to evolve and live.

Trees reproduce with seeds. They come in all shapes and sizes. The common factors of seeds are that they are designed to travel far, endure harsh conditions and contain enough nutrients to support initial growth. Why are seeds designed to travel far? Isn’t it better to keep all the seeds close to the parent trees? Isn’t the environment where parent trees grow healthy and a good environment for the seeds?

In reality, being next to parent trees is not the best environment for seeds to grow. Janzen and Connell are two famous ecologists who have hypothesized negative density dependence, the concept that seedlings do better when they are far from their parent tree. The tall parent trees block sunlight that the seedlings need most to grow. The parent trees have big roots underground and take the same nutrients that the seedlings need. The same species fight for limited resources and same minerals in the soil. Thus, for their species to survive, seeds are designed to travel far.

Dispersing seeds far away from the parent trees has another advantage. Being some distance from the parent trees protects the seeds and seedlings from predators or pathogens. If the same species of trees are dispersed far, it is not likely that one incident will wipe out the entire species.

To further ensure the survival of the seeds, they are designed to endure harsh conditions. Some seeds can lay dormant for many years and germinate when provided with the right environment. Once they germinate, inside the seed there is enough nutrition to support the growth spurt.

There are lessons from the trees that we learn for succession planning. The good intention of parents keeping their children close to nurture and protect them can be counter-productive. Parents want to develop their children’s potential fully and build resilience in them so that they can thrive even after the parents are gone or when there are challenges in life. What we learn from the trees is that all the parents can do is to provide their children enough protection to survive harsh conditions and give enough reserve nutrition for them to survive when the time comes for them to grow on their own.