Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Q: Are trees selfless? Why do people compare good human beings with trees?

Krishna: An analogy is a comparison made to show how two different things are similar, especially in limited ways.

Using metaphors is one way of making things clear. So writers usually compare good human beings with trees.
Now are trees really selfless? 
Because ....
1. People say trees give shade during hot summers.
All things give shadows. As trees are big they have bigger shadows!
2. Trees give fruits and flowers.
Fruits and flowers are the way trees reproduce. It is for their own benefit. 
Flowers are attractive and sweet smelling to  benefit their own pollination!
Fruits are offered for dispersal of seeds!
All fruits contain seeds. The fruit's job is usually either to provide food for the baby plant or to tempt an animal to eat the fruit, spreading the seeds in the process. 
3. When cut, trees can regrow. 
Well, some trees can grow back from the roots, depending on the species & variety of the original tree.

This is a great question. Like many good questions, the answer is that it depends. The species, climate, temperature and time of year make a difference, and many trees can graft to surrounding trees or re-sprout from a stump. These factors help predict how long a stump can live and reveal some of the interesting survival adaptations of trees.

First, the basics:

Roots eventually die without foliage

All of a tree’s energy comes from photosynthesis taking place in the green parts of the plant: the foliage. Roots provide an anchor to keep a tree standing and supply nutrients and water from the soil, but they don’t feed the tree.

Roots contain a limited amount of a tree’s stored energy. Contrary to the common belief, most of the carbohydrates created through photosynthesis are stored in the twig close to where they were made, not the roots. That helps trees to reinvest their energy locally, driving new growth in the parts of the tree with the best access to light, so that shaded, unproductive branches grow more slowly or die off naturally. This compartmentalized system is a huge benefit to trees because they can get rid of energy sinks and adapt their growth to their surroundings.

The roots do, however, receive a portion of a tree’s carbohydrate energy to live and grow, and a bit more for stored energy as a survival adaptation. The types of adaptations a tree species has will provide clues as to how long its severed stump can live.

Why trees store extra energy in the roots/stump?

In case of catastrophe: When a major disaster like a flood, fire or avalanche clears a section of a forest, the first sprouts to emerge afterwards have a major competitive advantage. Some conifer trees are adapted to release seeds in fire for this reason, but an even bigger head-start is the ability to regrow from the stump. Stumps from species adapted to do this will last longer. If shoots appear during the same or next growing season and they are allowed to grow, the tree will live indefinitely.

In forestry, a harvesting practice called coppicing uses this strategy to keep gathering wood from the same trees for generations.

In nature, fallen old trees (such as redwoods) can re-sprout new growth from the base of a severed stump, resulting in a circular formation of new trees that can last for thousands of years. It’s called a fairy ring. This adaptation in redwoods is probably a fire survival strategy.

In fact, roots continue growing through winter using stored energy. For that reason, the stump from a tree cut down in fall will still be very much alive in spring and will likely still have living cells throughout much of the next growing season. A tree cut in late spring, on the other hand, won’t survive more than a few months.

Tropical trees that don’t re-sprout within a few weeks are probably dead.

Some trees can’t re-sprout.

Many tree species have no capability of regrowing shoots from the base, or lose the ability to re-sprout when they reach a certain level of maturity (usually fairly young). If a tree like this is cut down, it is functionally dead—even if the roots are technically still alive for a few months.

A diseased or dying tree will die quickly after being cut.

If the tree was already sick and dying, it was using its energy just to stay alive and didn’t keep much in reserve. Unless it was already sending up live shoots from the base in an attempt to start over, it probably never will—it’s done.

4. During unfavourable conditions they can adapt: To survive dormancy: Some trees can go dormant due to drought, but the most familiar form of dormancy is through winter. A frozen tree has no way to exchange nutrients between the canopy and roots, so those species send extra carbohydrates to their roots in fall so that the roots don’t die of starvation in winter. This is a survival strategy. 
But not all trees can do this.
5. Trees cool the atmosphere.
Why do we feel cool under the shade of a tree?
Normally, trees help cool the planet by absorbing carbon dioxide (as part of the photosynthesis process and preparation of its own food) and by evaporating water into the air. In the tropics, water evaporates naturally from trees, increasing cloud cover and keeping temperatures cooler.
Trees do all this for their own benefit. Nature and we only make use of these things.
Are trees really selfless? Now come to your own conclusion!
Metaphors are metaphors. Analogies are analogies.
Science makes things  very clear by stating facts, while art uses analogies to infuse good qualities in people. 
But .... wait! I want to add something else....
If you grow uncontrollably like a tree that is not good.
If you produce innumerable off-springs like a tree, population explosion occurs and that is not good too! 
An artist or a writer understands things differently to a scientist.
Q: Are mothers selfless? Is mothers' love the best ?
Krishna: Not all mothers are selfless. I have heard about monster mothers too. 
Now I know some people will start attacking me for saying this. 
But here is my evidence: 

Filial cannibalism occurs when an adult individual of a species consumes all or part of the young of its own species or immediate offspring. Filial cannibalism occurs in many animal species ranging from mammals to insects, and is especially prevalent in various species of fish. Exact evolutionary purpose of the practice in those species is unclear and there is no verifiable consensus among zoologists; it is agreed upon though that it may have, or may have had at some point in species' evolutionary history, certain evolutionary and ecological implications (1).

Total or whole clutch cannibalism occurs when a parent consumes its entire brood. This usually occurs when a brood is smaller or of lesser quality. The most obvious purpose of total or whole clutch cannibalism is the termination of care for the parents. The main benefit of this action can only be an investment in the future reproduction of potentially larger or healthier broods (2).


  • Satisfies current energy or nutrition requirements(2)
  • In a non-reproductive environment, is a way to recoup reproductive investment(2)
  • Puts evolutionary pressure on offspring to make the offspring develop quicker(3)
  • May increase the reproductive rate of a parent by making that parent more attractive to potential mates(3)
  • Gets rid of offspring that take too long to mature(3)
  • Removes weaker offspring in an overproduced brood, which makes the other offspring more likely to succeed (3)

Nature has strange ways of working. Science makes us understand these in the way it should be done. No emotions please! Facts are facts!

Some mothers are selfish even if they are dealing with their own flesh and blood! 

Then mothers love their children because they are their children! There is a sort of selfishness involved in this.

Which love is the best? A person who helps other human beings  who is not a relative or an acquaintance is the best because s/he understands universality of life perfectly. A person who treats all living beings as equal, loves them equally and helps them unconditionally - is the best. 

The love of such a person is the best and even surpasses a mother's love.

Now you can attack me for saying this if you really can't understand what I said!


1. Hope Klug; Kai Lindström (2008). "Hurry-up and hatch: selective filial cannibalism of slower develop...Biology Letters4 (2): 160–162. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2007.0589PMC 2429927PMID 18252661.

2. Mark A. Elgar; Bernard J. Crespi (1992). Cannibalism: Ecology and evolution among diverse taxa. New York: Oxford University PressISBN 978-0-19-854650-4.

3. Andrea Thompson (November 14, 2007). "Why some animals eat their offspring"LiveScience. Retrieved November 28, 2011.

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