Thursday, April 30, 2020:
Today, I tripped over what looked like a petrified puddle at the base of a eucalyptus tree. A lignotuber. That’s what this nasty-looking arboreal cyst is called, according to Google. Lignotuber: A rounded woody growth at or below ground level on some shrubs and trees that grow in areas subject to fire or drought, containing a mass of buds and food reserves. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an organ that stores reserves of food for hard, uncertain times– times that feel imminent nowadays? This biological mechanism of the blue gum eucalyptus mocks me; when COVID-19 sent us all “home,” my illusions of independent college life shattered. But the tree’s autonomy is also a cushy illusion. Below the ground, mycorrhizal associations between the plant and its fungal partners supply the tree with the water and mineral.
nutrients that it cannot access alone. The blue gum eucalyptus, which can grow to be as tall as three hundred feet, depends on the unending labor of microscopic fungal hyphae and other tiny actors: (com)post-capitalism, or the “understated yet indispensable apparatus on which a collective lives, works, and depends.” (Bradley, 9) In fact, the trees nearest to the compost bins, which are teeming with microbial, insect, and bacterial life, are visibly more healthy. Case in point. The deciduous dead and dying, availing themselves of long strips of papery skin, become the homes of downy woodpeckers. And the pecker’s abandoned abodes are great lived-ins for chickadees, ewick wrens, house wrens and starlings.
The blue gum’s companion species have accompanied it on its storied flight way; at least fifteen different Australian eucalyptus-feeding insects of four different guilds have been found in North America. The “reciprocal induction” of these species and the Southern California critters they’ve encountered is the unending process of “becoming with” that Donna Haraway points us to. I’m not excluding myself from this story. Moisture from the air condenses on the tree’s leaves, which makes the environments of the grove that I sit and write in cool and moist. My breaths (approximately ten a minute) capture the tree’s offering of oxygen (and thousands of airborne bacteria and fungi). I toil in the rich humus that the tree stabilizes with its complex root system, and from this soil emerges that which sustains me, food! I’m grateful for the cool refuge– almost as much as the mockingbird directly above me in the canopy, singing a composition of car alarms. The gall.