Christmas Tree Facts From the BBC

Credit: Larry Michael / NPL. Via the BBC

Although Organikos is a non-denominational blog, there is no doubt that Christmas is an important holiday in many of the places we work, like Kerala and Costa Rica. This year, Stephanie Pappas from the BBC shares some interesting secrets about Christmas trees that you probably didn’t know, and can read below:

Each Christmas, families gather around evergreens, real or fake, to celebrate the season.

But what holiday revellers may not realise is just how incredible these spruce, fir and pines can be.

In the wild, evergreen conifers survive drastic temperature swings, grow to towering heights and create ecosystems that shelter strange and wonderful creatures.

Here are some the secrets of Christmas trees and their tough, tenacious lives.

Christmas trees can turn to glass

Here’s a party trick not to try without the proper safety equipment: drop a sprig of Siberian spruce (Picea obovata) or Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in a vat of liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of -196 degrees Celsius. Providing you’ve pre-chilled the plant to -20 degrees Celsius or so, the sprig will survive.

This incredible cold tolerance serves conifers in the boreal forests of Siberia, where winter temperatures regularly get below -60 degrees Celsius. How these trees do it, though, is only partially understood, says Richard Strimbeck, a plant physiologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

What seems most likely is that the tree tissue turns to glass.

In this sense, the word glass means a solid without a crystalline structure — just like window glass, but made of sugars, protein and water molecules rather than silica.

“Once the molecules are in this glassy state, they can’t move around, and that means they can’t react,” Strimbeck said. Essentially pre-frozen, the trees’ metabolism drops to zero, and their cells aren’t damaged by extreme cold. When winter approaches, trees also pull water from their cells to the surrounding tissue, so that the swelling ice crystals don’t burst the cell walls.

This process of cold-weather preparation is called “hardening,” and trees appear to rely on a combination of the seasonal light cycle and temperatures to determine when to prepare. The exact mechanisms remain largely a mystery, Strimbeck said.

Read the rest of the article here.

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