Ilha de Árvores / Island of Trees

“The planting of a tree, especially one of the long-living hardwood trees, is a gift which you can make to posterity at almost no cost and with almost no trouble, and if the tree takes root it will far outlive the visible effect of any of your other actions, good or evil.”

― George Orwell

  • Betula pendula / Bétula / Birch  (family Betulaceae) 

Originated in the Middle Eocene (around 45 mln years ago).

The genus Betula contains 30 to 60 known taxa of which 11 are on the UCN 2011 Red List of Threatened Species. 

Birch trees would have been one of the first to recolonize the rocky, ice-scoured landscape.  Hence, ecologists refer to birch as a pioneer species. It belongs to a group of medicinal plants. Numerous studies on the chemical composition and activity of the birch isolates are aimed at confirming their biological effects and the use in traditional medicine. The word birch comes from a root bhereg-, meaning “to shine, bright, white” (also the ash).  In Celtic mythology, birch is also a tree of beginnings and came to symbolise renewal and purification. 

Red List of Threatened Species:

Betula klokovii (Ukraine) – critically endangered
Photo by Pablo Koury @whynalog

In the performance “Ilha de Árvores” the artists created an unique micro-forest on a few meters square island on Ria de Aveiro.
The oneiric island seems as a fatamorgana or an utopic land of endangered trees – you can encounter there species that are nearly extinct. Is there still a hope to save them?

  • Salix / Salgueira / Willow, Sallow or Osier (family Salicaceae)

Originated in the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (around 56 mln years ago).

The philosophical perspective of the significance of the willow tree has been elaborated since the Assyrians (4000 BC) and Sumerians (3500 BC). A fishing net made from willow dates back to 8300 BC. Early records of using the willow tree, as a source of a medicinal plant, goes back to about 6000 years ago. 

The active extract of the bark, called salicin, is metabolized into salicylic acid in the human body, and is a precursor of aspirin. The word is ultimately derived from a Celtic language, sal meaning ‘near’ and lis meaning ‘water’, alluding to their habitat. With a long history of symbolism, the willow has deep roots with spirituality and psychic ability with specific links to the lunar realm. It’s a symbol of fertility and new life, a willow branch can be planted in the ground and from it, a new tree will grow in its place.

Red List of Threatened Species:

Salix aeruginosa (Mexico) – endangered

  • Quercus / Carvalho / Oak (family Fagaceae) 

Originated in the late Cretaceous (around 85 millions years ago). 

There are approximately 500 species of oaks. The genus Quercus is one of the most important groups of woody plants in many regions in the Northern Hemisphere. It also contains the most economically useful trees, providing high quality timber, firewood, tannins for leather, natural dyes, long-lived horticulture shade trees, wildlife habitat, food for animals (leaves and acorns) and even food for human beings. Many oaks are keystone species without which the complex web of the ecosystem cannot be completed.

Many species of oaks are under threat of extinction in the wild, largely due to land use changes, livestock grazing and unsustainable harvesting. Over the past 200 years, large areas of oak forest in the highlands of Mexico, Central America and the northern Andes have been cleared for coffee plantations and cattle ranching. 

The prehistoric Indo-European tribes worshiped the oak and connected it with a thunder or lightning god, and this tradition descended to many classical cultures.

Red List of Threatened Species:

Quercus tomentella (Island Oak; Mexico,US) – endangered

  • Castanea sativa / Castanheira / Chestnut (family Fagaceae)

Originated at the beginning of the Cenozoic era (over 60 million years ago).

The chestnut is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and grown in most temperate climates of the world for its nuts, beauty, shelter and timber and have been an important item of human diet since time immemorial. The term “bread tree” has been used in some places for chestnuts, which has been one of the fundamental nutrients used in human nutrition. The Chestnut is one of the most important natural raw materials used for the extraction of tannin. Thanks to its high tannin content, chestnut wood is resistant to degradation even if continuously exposed to atmospheric agents. That is why it was used in the construction of hydraulic artifacts such as drains and wheels for mills, once widespread in rural and mountainous villages. The chestnut wood has a long life even if completely buried.

Red List of Threatened Species:

Castanea dentata (American Chestnut; Canada, US) – critically endangered

  • Malus domestica / Macieira / Apple Tree  (family Rosaceae)

Originated in the mid-Miocene (around 15 mln years ago). 

The tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, is still found today. 

Archaeological remains of apples that dated to about 6500 BC were found in Anatolia. Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or forbidden fruit. As late as the 17th century, the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all fruit other than berries, but including nuts. The similarity of this word to Latin mălum, meaning ‘evil’, may also have influenced the apple’s becoming interpreted as the biblical “forbidden fruit”.

Red List of Threatened Species:

Malus niedzwetzkyana (Afghanistan; China; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Uzbekistan) – endangered

  • Punica granatum / Romãzeira / Pomegranate  (family Lythraceae)

Originated mid-Miocene (around 15 mln years ago).

Pomegranate is unusual in being one of only two species in its genus, Punica. 

Domestication began somewhere in the Neolithic era. Evidence of using pomegranates around 5000 BC.

The name Punica is the feminized Roman name for Carthage, the ancient city in northern Tunisia from which the best pomegranates came to Italy. It was initially known as Malum punicum, the apple of Carthage. But Linneaus selected the current name, with the specific epithet granatum, meaning seedy or grainy.  Its healing properties were already recognised in antiquity. Owing to its aesthetic shape, this delicious fruit features in various symbolic representations and its many seeds make it a symbol of fertility.

 Red List of Threatened Species:

Punica granatum (Afghanistan; Iran; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; Uzbekistan) – least concern

  • Pinus / Pinheiro / Pine Tree (family Pinaceae)

Pinus originated in the mid-Mesozoic Era (around 150 mln years ago) on the supercontinent of Laurasia.

Pinaceae dates to the early Mesozoic and the genus Pinus perhaps mid-Jurassic. A Jurassic origin is supported by the relatively high diversity of Pinus already present in the Cretaceous. 

Pines have permeated into the folklore of many cultures, being associated with immortality, steadiness and resilience possibly due to their successful adaptation to diverse and often harsh environments, as well as their longevity in nature. The animist traditions of Japan, China and Korea share a veneration of the pine tree as a source of longevity, virtue and masculine power. The Japanese term Matsu loosely translates as “waiting for the soul of a god to descend from heaven”, which relates to the Shinto belief that pines are ladders used by gods to ascend to heaven.

 Red List of Threatened Species:

Pinus torreyana (Torrey Pine; The US) – critically endangered

“Rilke wrote: ‘These trees are magnificent, but even more magnificent is the sublime and moving space between them, as though with their growth it too increased.”

 ― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species:

Island of Trees / Ilha de Árvores

Choreography and performance: Joanna Gruntkowska, Małgorzata Suś
Music: Pedro Pestana

Film by Pablo Koury

Short film Ilha de Árvores was selected for festivals:

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