By Michelle Werts
Earlier this month, while helping research and recall some of 2011’s top environmental stories for our year-in-review article, I came across some headlines and stories that represent what I like to refer to as “Who’d have thunk?” And in the few remaining hours of 2011, I thought it would be fun to look back at 11 of those stories and reminisce about the interesting tidbits that are bound to be surefire, New Year’s Eve party, small-talk successes.
More trees equal bigger newborns. According to a study in Portland, Oregon, which was released in January 2011, pregnant women who lived in houses with more trees on the property were less likely to have undersized newborns.
- Israelis and Palestinians plant trees together. In March, people from both nations met in Salem, a village in Israel, and planted olive trees. Participants hope that the joint effort will help inspire peace in a land often engulfed in conflict.
- Trees stop traffic. To be more precise, a UK Department for Transport study found that avenues of trees and hedges were as effective as speed cameras in slowing down motorists.
- Trash to thank for Florida Everglades tree islands. The Everglades marshy landscape is sprinkled with tree copses, and some scientists now believe that those copses have grown out of prehistoric garbage mounds.
- Black trees grow in space. Or scientists think they do. In a study released in April, scientists hypothesized that planets with multiple suns might contain trees and plants that are gray and black instead of green and brown.
- Two men map almost 20,000 trees in New York City’s Central Park. And they didn’t get paid to do it! Two tree enthusiasts spent the last two-and-a-half years identifying and mapping 19,933 trees in Central Park. They’ve identified 174 species across the park’s 843 acres. They estimate that they have about 15 percent of the vegetation to go.
- Treehenge takes root. A nonprofit in Condamine, Australia, is planting a mosaic of trees that will be equivalent in size to the Pyramids of Giza and will be able to be seen from aboard the International Space Station.
Library overrun by plants. More than 10,000 plants create a “living wall” for Canada’s Semiahmoo Public Library in British Columbia.
- Beer lovers everywhere start sending thank you notes to trees. Okay, not really, but they should have after scientists discovered that the yeast that gives lager its distinctive flavor was a happy accident when the beech trees of Patagonia met a European yeast more than 600 years ago.
- Estonia provides a view from the canopy. In October, an architectural firm unveiled its “A Path in the Forest” in Estonia’s Kadriorg Park. The limited-time, 300-foot, floating trail winded its way up and among the old-growth forest, allowing visitors to experience the forest in a whole new way.
- Scientists attempt to explain Leonardo da Vinci’s tree rule. da Vinci once wrote that if you combine all of the branches in tree, they will equal the thickness of the trunk. Now, scientists are testing this rule to figure out how and why this is the case. There appear to be two conflicting branches of thought: those that think it relates to hydrology and those supporting structural considerations.
Okay, now that you’re equipped with your party trivia, go out and have a safe and happy New Year celebration. We’ll see you back here in 2012.