Metaphor Alert! Trees Need Wind to Grow Strong

A life lesson learned the sad way: Trees were drooping and dying under “ideal” circumstances.

Biosphere 2 is a cool, slightly kooky idea — an artificial earth, created (says Wikipedia) “to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching, and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe.”

Think of it as a giant terrarium/reality show/science experiment. But for our purposes, think of it as a really overprotected childhood.

The trees planted there initially grew way faster than they would in the wild. (Think of the trees as maybe SAT scores, or some kind of extracurricular prowess.) And then? Well, according to the website AweSci — as in awesome science:

[T]hese trees wouldn’t completely mature. Before they could, they used to collapse. Later it was found that this was caused by the lack of wind in the biosphere. And it turns out, wind plays a major role in a trees life. The presence of wind makes a tree stronger, it is thus able to mature and not fall down due to its own weight.

Stressed trees develop amazing “stress wood”

Okay, I think you’re seeing our point. But just to hammer it home, here’s a bit more detail about what actually happens when trees don’t get the chance to deal with everyday childhood problems…er…wind:

When plants and trees grow in the wild, the wind constantly keeps them moving. This causes a stress in the wooden load bearing structure of the tree. So, to compensate, the tree manages to grow something called the reaction wood (or stress wood). This stress wood usually has a different structure (in terms of cellulose or lignin content and more) and is able to position the tree where it’d get the best light, or other optimum resources.

So a little bit of stress toughens the tree AND teaches it how to take care of itself — how to get what it needs to survive and thrive.

No stress? No stress wood. No ability to deal with life.

The baby wipe connection

It may SEEM like a stress-free existence would be best. Certainly, there’s a lot of parenting advice out there telling us we should shield our kids from all kinds of difficulties…that probably they could get through just fine without our help. Recall this Parents Magazine article telling parents to stay close by whenever their child has a playdate, in order to intervene if there’s a spat.

Phew! A stress averted.

And let’s not forget all the gadgets and doodads to make sure our kids never encounter the wind equivalent of a cold baby wipe (hence, the wipe warmer — this is a review of seven!), or a sub-optimal piece of Kleenex (hence: Boogie Wipes…admittedly a brilliant name). We have been encouraged to take away the merest wisp of “wind” in our kids’ lives.

Anyway: The Biosphere 2 got a lot of things wrong. (My God — read the Wikipedia entry! Cockroach invasions! Ants! Hording! A management team escorted out by Federal Marshalls!) But it sure gave us a great metaphor, and a non-metaphor, real-world lesson to boot: Even if you think you can control everything…you can’t.

So don’t! (A lesson I must tell myself all the time, too.)

Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash