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How trees can serve as markers through stages of life

TREES ARE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF LANDSCAPE DESIGN. They can provide a screen, shelter or shade. They add color, shape and dimension. Some even bear food for the dinner table. • They also can have a deeper meaning, as we're reminded in Daniel Butler's soon-to-be-released How to Plant a Tree: A Simple Celebration of Trees & Tree-Planting Ceremonies (Tarcher/Penguin, $15.95). • In a slim volume illustrated with graceful line drawings, Butler offers practical advice about planting and the history of various species. He also offers suggestions for trees that would be appropriate to mark various stages of the life cycle.

• BIRTH

Butler sums it up well: "There could be no better record of this new life than establishing another, parallel, living entity."

In some cultures, the oak is equated with strength and wisdom. The live oak (Quercus virginiana), if properly cared for, could be enjoyed by your baby's grandchildren and their grandchildren. Give it plenty of room; live oaks can grow 60 to 80 feet tall with a spread of 60 to 120 feet.

Hindus believe mango (Mangifera indica) is a symbol of attainment and potential perfection. There are many varieties of mango, but one thing is sure: The fruit from your yard will taste better than what you buy at the store. Cultivars to try include Kent, Nom Doc Mai, Edward, Keitt.

• COMING OF AGE

This time of life is marked across religions (think Christianity's confirmation and Judaism's bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah). Butler suggests that the young adult who is honored could help tend the tree (provided, of course, that you can get your teenager off the couch).

The fig tree symbolizes luck, enlightenment and interconnectedness, he says. "In Hinduism," Butler writes, "it is known as kalpavriksha, or the wish-fulfilling divine tree." For large spaces, the banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis) and the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) are interesting options.

• NEW HOME

For many people, the first new home is a relatively short stay in an apartment or condo, which seems more suited to a housewarming plant than a tree. Butler, however, suggests a container-kept tree that can move as the homeowners do and possibly be planted at a future home.

Lemon and orange trees (Citrus limon and Citrus sinensis, respectively) do well in pots and blossom with a lovely fragrance. Lemon cultivars to try include the truly local Bearss, found originally in Lutz, and Harvey, originally from Clearwater. The popular Meyer lemon (Citrus × meyeri) is actually thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin orange or sweet orange. A wide variety of oranges exist, but many people prefer Valencia for its few seeds and tasty juice.

• ENGAGEMENT & MARRIAGE

When my parents married in 1958, my grandparents planted a magnolia that eventually became the photo backdrop for dances and christenings for me and my siblings — and for our children.

Magnolias grow well here in a range of sizes. Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) has a number of cultivars; you can choose from the qualities (leaf size and color, flowering dates) that suit. For a more columnar variety, check out the Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana).

Butler suggests a pear tree as a fine choice for engagements: "Its spring blossom matches the happy mood of the moment, while holding out a promise of things to come." Choose carefully: the Tampa Bay area is just a bit south of the growing range. Try the cultivars Flordahome, Hood or Pineapple.

• IN MEMORIAM

A tree can be one of the most respectful ways to honor someone who has died. One route would be to honor the passions of the deceased: an olive tree for a cook, for example. Butler also suggests the ceiba, also known as the kapok tree. Mayans, he says, believed "in a world tree whose roots, trunk and branches connected the underworld with the sky and the living."

B Buckberry Joyce can be reached at (727) 893-8113 or bbuckberry@sptimes.com.

THE BOOK: How to Plant a Tree: A Simple Celebration of Trees & Tree-Planting Ceremonies, by Daniel Butler (Tarcher/Penguin, $15.95). Release date is April 15.

• Some of the trees suggested in Butler's book will not grow in the Tampa Bay area. Check with the University of Florida index of trees at hort.ufl.edu/trees or call your local extension service before planting.

How trees can serve as markers through stages of life 04/02/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 2, 2010 5:30am]

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