Art, Trees, and Epiphytes: Neighbourhood Sights and Gifts

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Art on a tree trunk

I live in a suburban neighbourhood. As a nature lover, I appreciate the attractive gardens and the patches of nature next to some of the homes very much. They seem like gifts from my neighbours and the neighbourhood to me and to other people who appreciate them. The “gifts” sometimes involve more than gardens and nature. At this time of year, the Christmas decorations in some gardens and on some houses are lovely to see. Sometimes the gifts from the neighbourhood are unexpected, however.

There’s a small area near my home where artwork has mysteriously appeared on a tree trunk and a grass verge. The verge and its row of trees are located between a sidewalk and the road. I don’t know for certain why the art items were deposited there or who deposited them, but today I found a clue about where they’re coming from.

The first unusual item that appeared in the area was the interesting face shown in the photo above. The open mouth of the face and the irregularities in the wood inside the mouth look quite ominous to me. Ever since I first discovered it, I’ve imagined that the face comes to life and chews the tree (and perhaps other things) at night when no one sees it.

Perhaps the face represents a character that is important in another culture and I’m attributing behaviour to him that doesn’t apply, or perhaps the design came purely from the artist’s imagination. It enjoyable to imagine the possibilities in either case.

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A garden gnome outside a garden

The garden gnome above is sitting on part of a tree on the grass verge and has appeared just a few steps away from the mysterious face. He appears to have seen better days. His blue paint has almost disappeared, but he doesn’t seem to be discouraged. He appears to be cheerful and is still hammering away at whatever task he’s trying to complete.

In folklore, a gnome is often depicted as a small man that lives in the centre of the Earth and guards its treasure. Garden gnomes are sometimes seen as symbols of protection for a home and garden or as a symbol of good luck. It might seem to be unlucky to discard one. On the other hand, maybe the original owner of the gnome above wants to share his or her good luck with the neighbourhood,

The appearance of the face and gnome was a complete mystery to me until today. I noticed a garden ornament depicting a well in the front garden of a home near the two pieces of art. Like the gnome, it was almost white in colour and seemed to have lost its paint. Maybe it will soon join the pair on the grass verge.

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Ferns, moss, and lichens on a tree trunk

A few paces from the artwork is another interesting sight. One of the trees in particular has a lovely collection of epiphytes on its trunk. An epiphyte is a plant or plant-like organism that grows on the surface of another plant. It’s not a parasite. It gets moisture and nutrients from the material around it. This material may be rain, debris that collects in crevices of the host, or even air.

Three types of epiphytes are growing on the tree shown above and below; lichens (the greyish organisms), moss, and ferns.  Mosses are non-vascular plants and ferns are vascular ones. Vascular plants contain tubular vessels that conduct nutrients and water from one part of the plant to another. Mosses are much smaller than ferns and don’t require the relatively long-distance transport of materials in order to survive.

Lichens are interesting organisms that consist of a fungus and an alga or a cyanobacterium. Cyanobacteria used to be called blue-green algae. The alga or cyanobacterium is photosynthetic. Researchers have recently discovered that some lichens consist of three organisms instead of two: a fungus, a photosynthetic organism, and a yeast.

Like moss and ferns, the alga and the cyanobacterium in a lichen produce food in the form of a carbohydrate by combining the carbon dioxide and water that they absorb from the environment. Fungi don’t produce their own food but must absorb it from their surroundings. The fungus in a lichen uses some of the food that the other organism in the partnership produces. It helps the other organism by providing it with moisture and nutrients and by protecting it. It’s a good relationship.

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More epiphytes on a tree trunk

The sidewalk by the art is part of a route to a shopping centre. I prefer a different route to the centre because it enables me to travel along a trail bordered by plants on either side, which is always enjoyable. Fortunately, the strip of grass verge where I took all of the photos above is located near an entrance to the trail. This means that I can check on the current status of the art and the plants either on my way to the stores or on the way back. It will be interesting to see if there are any further developments in the area.