Following my ramblings from yesterday’s post, the next question you might want to ask yourself –as Francis Hallé does–is whether a tree is a tree, or is it many trees?
Back to first principles. How would you define an individual?
You could say an individual is a living being that is indivisible; that is, you can’t divide it into two without one part dying. By that definition, a tree is definitely not an individual.
Or you could say that an individual is an entity protected by a single immune system, which clearly recognizes a boundary between self and non self.
Do dipterocarps recognize a self? On one hand, one hears of dipterocarps intertwining their roots with other dipterocarps of the same species, which would indicate that the answer is “no.” On the other hand, there is a phenomenon known as crown shyness, where if you look up into the canopy, there’s a clearly defined boundary between the foliage of a dipterocarp and its closest neighbour.
Genetically speaking, an individual is constituted by a single genome that stays constant across space—our genes are the same in our fingers as in our toes—and time—our genes stay the same from when we are born to when we die.
That—as we have just seen in the case of reiteration—is not the case with dipterocarps. With more reiterations, there are more genomes that make up a dipterocarp.
That thing that humans do over centuries, evolving their genome through sexual reproduction to adapt to the environment, dipterocarps can do within the same organism, simply through vegetative growth.
So genetically speaking, no, a dipterocarp is not an individual—although it appears to be one. Who the tree is at the beginning of its life is different from who it is at the end. A tree is not a tree but many trees.
For humans, when we move, we often do so to leave behind our history; but when we stay, genealogies and family become paramount.