Guest editorial

One of the highlights of this time of the year in many places around the world is the blooming of sakura or cherry blossoms. Over the years, many cities have organised festivals around this natural and beautiful phenomenon, and tourists have travelled for thousands of miles to appreciate and photograph the trees during April and May. Cherry blossoms abound in Japan, going back over 1,200 years, and people plan trips to Hirosaki, Kyoto and Tokyo specifically for the experience.

Every spring, the cherry blossom trees in Washington DC, USA, are also a sight to behold, and they are famous as they were part of a gift to the United States from Japan in 1912. But they are easily outshone by the brilliance of some 2,700 trees in Branch Brook Park, New Jersey, where an annual festival is usually held. London, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; Curitiba, Brazil; Vancouver, British Columbia; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Bonn, Germany are among some of the many places in the world where locals and tourists flock to enjoy the plethora of pink and white flowers, which are at their peak for just a few days during the cherry blossom season.

This year, several cities were forced to offer only socially distanced or virtual tours of their trees at peak bloom, owing to Covid-19 restrictions. As if that were not sad enough, blooming occurred earlier this year and scientists from three different countries believe this is due to climate change and, to some extent, urbanisation—two sources of heat in cities that would cause the temperature-sensitive flowers to open. In Japan, this year’s blooms, occurring in March, were said to be the earliest in 1,200 years.

Those who managed, whether accidentally or deliberately, to experience this year’s peak bloom might count themselves lucky, but according to a CNN report, the scientists are worried about how this aberration impacts not just the cherry trees, but the wider ecosystem. Unfortunately, unusual heat also affects other plant and animal life and, where food crops are concerned, unpredictability can prove particularly harmful.

To some, anxiety over trees that bloom for just a short period once a year can seem to be passing strange. It must be especially so to those who neglect and abuse the several species of trees in Georgetown. For years, they have been subjected to two extremes, either not being trimmed or very badly butchered. In some cases, their roots have rotted as a result of flooding and soil erosion, while in other areas, paint is applied to their trunks in the name of beautification.

And lest we forget, there are those who were and are still perfectly willing to destroy the century-old rubber trees that line the Philbert Pierre Avenue in Mabaruma, Region One, in order to expand a road, which could probably be built elsewhere. It is perhaps the usual case of tunnel vision which prevents those in authority from seeing how they could not just preserve a historic avenue, but also extend the road network in the region.

The Department of Forestry in the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Guyana churns out hundreds of graduates every year. How many, one wonders, are arborists? Is this a profession that is even catered for in the courses offered? If not, why not, when Georgetown is referred to as “the Garden City”? Among its characteristics are the avenues of Main, Carmichael, Waterloo and Camp streets, each of which was planted with a specific species of tree. Today, one can still enjoy a stroll along Main Street beneath the extended canopy of Samaan trees.

That trees are vital to the environment cannot be underscored enough. Apart from providing shade and beauty, they are necessary for supplying oxygen, improving air quality and climate amelioration, among other things. Of course, there are trees in the forests, but even those are not completely safe from human harm which comes in the form of indiscriminate logging, mining activities and requiring land for agricultural and homesteading purposes.

But cities also need green spaces and that means trees that have been planted must be cared for. Furthermore, wherever communities are being established, ways should be found to build around any trees that are already in existence or for new ones to be planted and not just for their flowers, fruit and shade.

According to the World Economic Forum, recent research shows that “trees have been scientifically proven to improve mental health”. A report published on its website on April 6 refers to a study which found that trees in urban areas could help reduce stress and anxiety for residents and even improve levels of concentration in children with attention deficit disorder. The study, done in Germany, involved almost 10,000 residents of the city of Leipzig. It concluded that “living within 100 metres of a tree—of any species—was associated with lower use of antidepressants”, the report stated.

Aside from that, there is the long-standing Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, which involves spending periods of time under a canopy of trees. Some people do it daily and the Japanese believe it has the power to counter illnesses, including cancer, strokes, gastric ulcers, depression, anxiety and stress as well as to boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and aid sleep. This custom is now also being adopted in other places in the world.

When consideration is given to the fact that one in four people will experience mental illness in their lives, costing the global economy an estimated US$6 trillion by 2030, saving trees and travelling long distances to experience their beauty appear to be the less costly option.

—Stabroek News

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