Wednesday, September 11, 2013

BLOG RERUN: The World Trade Centre Memorial Tree

(this post was originally published September 11th, 2012)

Species name: Quercus bicolor

Common name: Swamp white oak

Location: Ontario

I figured that today's blog post should have a special meaning, so the plant of the day is the swamp white oak. It is a native species to southern Ontario, with a species range almost completely overlapping with the previous day's blog, the pin oak. Like the pin oak, the swamp white oak can tolerate being partially submerged during the spring run-off, but unlike the pin oak it can also tolerate being submerged (either temporarily or permanently) during the growing season. Also unlike the pin oak, it is mildly shade tolerant and so is a good competitor in swampy forests.

So what about this blog post has special meaning? Well, as I'm sure everyone is aware, today is the 11th anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks. While I don't personally know anyone that was in the WTC at the time of the attacks, or even know someone that knows someone that was in the WTC, I do remember my OAC ("grade 13") physics teacher stopping the class and turning on the TV so we could watch the news coverage. I remember the feeling of sadness of all of us in the class, and also the feeling of fear. None of us had ever stopped to think that this kind of thing even happened, let alone anywhere close to us. I won't ever forget where I was on that terrible day in history, and I don't think anyone else will, either. Unfortunately, the devastation of that day still rages on both in mentally in memories and in very physical ways. There are currently hundreds of firefighters and other first responders that are now battling unusual forms of cancer and lung disease because of the fumes they were inhaling while trying to save other peoples' lives. I heard on the news this morning that the American Government has finally agreed to pay for their medical treatment for their various cancers (previously it was limited to lung disease), which is a wonderful piece of news to hear.

In 2003, there was a competition to design a memorial for the former WTC site. The winning design was submitted by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, and includes two reflecting pools, a meeting area in the middle, and a mind-boggling number of trees. The memorial site was finally opened to the public on September 12, 2011, the day after the 10th anniversary dedication ceremony.

So where does the swamp white oak fit into this? Every single tree planted at the memorial site is a hand-picked swamp white oak from NYC and surrounding area. The workers on the site each got to choose a tree and a location to plant it within the memorial site, which ensures and almost "individualization" of each tree. The trees are all different sizes, different stages of maturity, and have different genetic backgrounds which help contribute to a spectacular colour show in the fall (the leaves of the swamp white oak change to yellow, orange or even pink depending on climate, light levels, and genetic background). A very neat idea, to say the least.

May we never forget the lives that we lost that day. If you see a first responder today, whether in NYC or in any other city around the world, thank them for their work. They selflessly put their lives on the line every time they walk into an emergency situation, and for that they should be commended.

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