Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Easter Egg Tree

Sometime back I speculated that knowing the name of a thing can be an obstacle to seeing it. But knowing the names of things can also induce us to look more carefully. "We see with our categories," said the infamous Wendell Johnson. The quote is usually invoked to suggest that categories can be limiting, but if we cannot but see with our categories, perhaps the best we can do is to have more and better categories.

After reading The Cloudspotter's Guide, I started taking more notice of clouds (which London skies are seldom without). Since I took up beekeeping, I look more carefully at bee-like flying insects: that is how I recently realised that a "bee" I photographed on a trek 8 years ago was in fact a hoverfly exhibiting Batesian mimicry.

In 2010, I summed up my attitude to trees as follows:
I like trees in the abstract, but regrettably, I know little about them. Which is to say, when I see a tree, I appreciatively say to myself, “Ah, a tree,” and I leave it at that. But I can’t help feeling a twinge of envy for people who can spot and identify trees, and who, even while strolling through a city street, sometimes remark upon an unusual tree, or point out a commonplace one and mention some interesting attribute.
This state of affairs persisted more or less unchanged until last month. Then, inspired by some tree identification walks and lectures I attended during London Tree Week, I decided to educate myself. Accordingly, in the last couple of weeks I have been skiving off work for an hour or two in the afternoon, trying to identify trees around our university campus with the help of a field guide.

A short walk from our campus is a street called India Place. I have been there many times, as it is home to the High Commission of India in London, so I cannot have failed to see the two handsome trees at its northern end.


Only today did I really notice them. I was also able to identify the species: Koelreuteria paniculata – common name: Pride of India.

I felt like I had stumbled upon an anonymous town-planner's Easter egg. Happy solstice, everyone!

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