Tree Museum

A museum for the Tree. Click on the rocks—and the Tree trunk—to experience the virtual museum here. And visit the Tree Baby sites throughout California to see plaques with excerpts from the Tree museum.

(Drawing: excerpt from "Tree Shrine Drawing #2" by Joel Tauber and Ben Tauber)

Sick-Amour is an activist and public art project, an art installation, and a movie by Joel Tauber that celebrates a lonely and forlorn Tree in the middle of a giant parking lot in front of the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena.

The Tree is no longer physically with us. But the Tree lives on. Through our collective memories. And through the many Tree Babies that continue to grow and thrive.

There are plaques with excerpts from the Tree museum at different Tree Baby sites throughout California.

Each year, the Tree absorbs 100 pounds of carbon dioxide. We produce far too much of this greenhouse gas right now, and its overabundance is directly linked to global warming. Thankfully, the Tree is an alchemist, and it is able to convert this gas into pure oxygen through the magical process of photosynthesis. How can we ever thank this charitable alchemist for giving us oxygen to breathe? What would happen if the Tree ceased to exist?

Sycamore anthracnose begins feeding on the Tree very shortly after new leaves arrive in the spring. The fungus eats the bark and the cambium in the twigs, and its toxins attack the wood of the Tree. Fungal spores spread out to the leaves, killing many of them. When the air gets warmer and drier (late May to early June), the fungus tends to stop attacking the Tree, and new leaves replace the ones killed off by the anthracnose. The fungus does not stop because it suddenly develops compassion. It only stops because it understands that it would kill the Tree and itself if it keeps attacking it. It keeps the Tree alive only so that it can feed upon it.

Philosopher Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) believes that we have an ethical responsibility to trees and other non-human living beings. He talks about the "land ethic." The land itself has rights. Different ecosystems have rights. We need to take care of the Tree, but we must also take care of its neighbors: the polluted river, the other forlorn trees in the lot, the birds and animals that visit the Tree, and the soil around it buried in asphalt. Our health and the health of our cities are linked to the plight of the Tree and its friends. The city is part of a larger ecosystem. The city cannot ignore the plight of the Tree because its fate is linked to the fate of the Tree. If we want our cities to be healthy, then the Tree and its friends must be healthy.

The Tree is trying so hard to reproduce. It spends so much energy trying to create healthy flowers and seeds, despite the fact that it has a very difficult time just surviving. But the reality is that even if it manages to make healthy seeds, there is nowhere for the seeds to grow! The Tree is surrounded by asphalt! So the Tree has no chance to reproduce on its own!! This really upsets me. There will be no lineage, if there are no saplings. And that would be horrible beyond belief! I cannot allow that to happen. I love this Tree, and I identify with it. So I decided to help it reproduce. I pray that the beautiful Tree Babies will have long, happy lives!

I hate powdery mildew. It's a fungus that deforms leaves and makes them cup-like. It is capable of deforming and killing every leaf on the Tree, but it has only succeeded in killing some of the leaves so far. This fungus enters the epidermis of the leaves, where it inserts a haustorium (a small connecting tube between the leaf and the fungus). It's a devilish umbilical tube. Through it, the fungus extracts food and returns toxicity that poisons the leaf and makes it curl up. Some kind of fair exchange! Taking food and returning poison! Where are the ethics? How can it be so brutally selfish?

The Tree cools the hot parking lot and saves us from more pollution in the process. Its stomata open as it conducts photosynthesis, and water evaporates from the Tree like an air mister. The shade from the Tree cools all that seek its shade. Cars beneath its canopy are 50 to 60 degrees cooler on a hot summer day. We should be grateful to the Tree for its ability to cool our air because smog forms much more rapidly if the air is hot. Parked cars emit a noxious gas, nitrogen oxide, even when they are parked; but they emit much less if they are cooled by the Tree.

Philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) teaches us that the way that we perceive the natural world is shaped by human culture. Our perception of the Tree is shaped by our culture and language. We have been conditioned to ignore it. We have been taught that the value in the Arroyo Seco parking lot lies with the expensive cars and the asphalt that paves their way. We cannot see the beauty of the Tree because our culture directs us away from it and towards the football stadium. We must open our eyes! The Tree can no longer go unnoticed! Even if we do not see it, the Tree is still there. And it has needs.

The Tree must wish that the Arroyo Seco River would flood it, quenching its thirst, like it did to sycamores long ago. But, alas, the river has been channelized and dammed to protect the valuable houses that border it. And the river has been polluted to such a great extent that it is unsafe for people to even walk in it. Where are the beautiful fish that used to swim in the Arroyo?

The Tree has broad, lobed leaves. This gives it more surface area to absorb energy from the sun, but it also allows water to evaporate through its stomata. Because the Tree cannot afford to waste any of its precious water, it has to be careful when it opens its somata to conduct photosynthesis. The Tree only conducts photosynthesis 4-5 months each year. Somehow it must work efficiently enough during this time to produce the food it needs to survive.

On January 31, 1971, astronaut Stuart Rosa carried seeds of a sycamore tree into space on Apollo 14. These seeds orbited the moon 34 times, eventually landing in Philadelphia and growing into sycamore trees. The Tree must be envious of these jet-setter seeds because it cannot fly away from its problems. The Tree is landlocked, grounded in asphalt.

The Tree is afflicted by a host of very small but ruthless pathogens. These selfish creatures offer nothing to the Tree. They have no sense of empathy whatsoever. Lace bugs are particularly thoughtless. They suck out nutrients from the leaves, bleaching and drying them. This kills some of the leaves and weakens the rest. The lace bugs will usually attack every leaf on the Tree, and there can be thousands of these nasty sucking insects on each leaf. And they are not only sucking out food. They actually defecate all over the leaves.

Philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) thought that we should become "lords and masters of nature" and subjugate our environment to our purposes. Sadly, many people listened to Descartes, and forests were chopped down to fuel the fires of industry and later to make room for things like parking lots. Descartes would see no reason to care for a tree in a parking lot that was impeding the traffic of "progress."

The Tree removes five pounds of pollutants from the air each year. Ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxide enter the Tree through its stomata (the pores in its leaves). The Tree absorbs these pollutants, even though they harm the Tree. This is an extremely selfless and charitable act. The Tree cleans up the air that we ruin by polluting it, without being asked and without any recognition. Why aren't we on our hands and knees thanking it?

The Persian emperor Xerxes (5th century B.C.E.) loved a particular sycamore tree so much that he adorned it with golden ornaments and gave it a royal bodyguard. Xerxes reminds us that all trees—even parking lot trees—need our respect and affection.

The Tree was starved for water and oxygen due to the asphalt that surrounded it. The stress led to an increase in a variety of pests. Worse, cars had hit and damaged it. All these things really upset me. So I started watering the Tree, and I tried to protect it from cars.

The Tree is the most isolated being that I can possibly imagine. The asphalt separates the Tree from the precious few neighboring trees in the parking lot. The river, so close, beckons to it, but asphalt and concrete make any connection impossible. Is this what the American ideal of the solitary individual looks like? Is this our separate and collective fate?

In the 17th century, the Dutch became so enamored with the tulip that people were trading their fortunes for this plant. How did this flower affect these people so profoundly? What spell did this plant cast on them? I think about these questions, as I wonder how this California sycamore Tree bewitched me with its charms. How did I fall so in love with this lonely and forlorn Tree?