Shy Trees Need Their Space, Too


I recently moved into a new apartment on the third floor of a large house. I’m so high up that my back porch touches the top of a giant tree (whose origin I have yet to identify). This stunning new view of neighboring backyards, and their magnificent treetops, takes my breath away every day. I see their poetry from a whole new perspective.

Trees (and giraffes) have always been my favorite things in nature. Their confident stature, beautiful fragility, their flexibility that sustains them against violent forces. They are vulnerable but determined. They feed and shade us. They care for us as we care—if we care—for them. (Everyone should have read “The Giving Tree” by now.) Trees have personalities, is the point; they are our friends.

Which is why this post about “Crown Shyness”—the phenomenon whereby individual tree crowns avoid overlap or touch, forming striking canopy patterns, according to nature writer Robert Macfarlane—speaks to me. The photos above illustrate this beautifully. These faceless, emotionless living things have a mind of their own.

It is believed Crown Shyness occurs for a number of reasons: helping trees protect each other from spreading harmful insects and disease; leaving enough space in their canopy to provide valuable sunlight to life below; just plain old anxiety.

Add this hypothesis to the pile: They love to flirt, since they can’t bear the inevitable torture of embrace, entanglement, heartbreak and separation. Or maybe that’s just me.