I guess it’s time for us to have a sex talk. Forget the birds and the bees. We need to talk about trees.
Trees are sexy. Well, maybe not so much sexy as sexual. Some trees are boy trees. Some trees are girl trees. Some trees can change their sex. Some trees are a mix of boy and girl.
Tree sex involves flowers, which are the female private parts, and pollen, the male contribution. Bees, other insects, some animals, birds, and the wind tend to get involved in the transfer of sexual materials (pollen delivered to flowers) when trees are sexually active. On rare occasion, close dancing and a Bee Gees song from the 1960s might end up in the mix.
Trees having a definitive sex are called dioecious or dicots, meaning “two in separate houses.” Boy trees tend to be somewhat annoying when sexed-up. They are the pollinators. Boy trees stir-up allergies for those suffering such. Girl trees, on the other hand, produce pretty flowers and bear fruit. At the same time, they tend to be a bit messier (sometimes a whole lot messier) because of the fruit they produce and then drop. Landscapers tend to favor male trees in urban landscapes because they are “less mess.”
I will leave the snide remarks about male landscapers choosing male trees to you.
A final note on male trees: During times of ancient Arabic conflicts, warring tribes would sneak into the date palm groves of their enemy and destroy the male trees. The female trees, which vastly outnumbered the male trees, would then be left with no way to produce their valuable fruit.
Some trees can change their sex. I read in The Guardian that the oldest known tree in the UK is, at present, undergoing a voluntary sex change. The tree, the Fortingall Yew in Penshire, is thought to be as much as 5,000 years old. Botanists considered the tree a male. Just recently, however, this boy tree started producing a girl’s berries. Gingko biloba trees have also been known to change their sex. This is also common behavior for some bushes and plants.
Some trees, as a way to simplify the whole sex thing, produce both boy and girl parts. Such trees are called monoecious or monocots. Here, the sex is in “one house”. They are not exactly self-pleasuring themselves, for those of you with dirty minds (Yes, I am talking to you, East Helena, Montana). The wind, insects, a bird, or some animal is usually involved in the pollinating process.
Most trees are monocots.
Interestingly, pines are technically neither dicot nor monocot. They are without flowers and in a sexual class of their own: conifers. But that is for another day.
Remember what I said about trees being sexy? There is even a human twist to this. Some people like trees. I mean they LIKE trees, if you get my drift. The sexual attraction to trees is termed “dendrophilia.” Granted, I like golden willow trees quite a bit. But I don’t have any specific urge to sex one up. For one thing, I hardly know where I might begin. I mean, a guy can get splinters just by walking barefoot across a wooden deck.
PHOTO: James Field
SOURCES: The Guardian, Laptopgardener.com, www.ucmp.berkeley.edu