My field journal: Usefulness and origin
My intro to environmental studies class at Southwestern University required a series of six field journal entries. This one explores a tree I have chosen, the soapberry, and its relationship to me and the world around it.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - 15:55
SOAPBERRY TREE: A shot of my tree during late February's snow. (Photo: Jessica Durrett)
Outdoor Description: Describe the larger landscape in which your tree resides: Who are its neighbors? Is it close to a water source? Speculate on why it is in this particular place, noting ecological and social possibilities.
Indoor Interpretation: Understanding the different biomes, determine what sort of environmental characteristics are indicative of this region (temperature, rainfall, soil type, etc.). Is your tree appropriate for this region? Why or why not? If not, what additional care do you think it needs to survive?
Since you have already identified your tree in field journal #1, you can now look up various historic uses for your tree (food, clothing, shelter, medicine, etc.). Be as specific as you can: What people/cultures used your tree for what purposes? To what cultures has it been important? What is it commonly used for now?
Further Reflections: Based on your reading and research, would your tree be considered a native species to this region? Why are native plant species important to ecosystem health?
9/17/09 | 5:17PM | 78˚F
It feels like there is a lot of moisture in the air. There is a steady gust of wind. It has been very windy out today.
My tree, a soapberry, inhabits my backyard and has to be, in my opinion, one of the main focal points of it. It is a rented home, so I can only speculate if my tree was native to the backyard or planted by human hands. It is in the corner of the lot right in front of the breakfast nook's ceiling-to-floor windows. I speculate that my tree was planted to bring shade to that room and for aesthetic reasons because it is beautifully stationed right outside said windows.
Ecologically, I have never really seen this tree before, which is what triggered my interest. From my research for the first field journal entry, I know that it is a native Texas plant, but I am not quite sure if it belongs in this biome of Texas. My tree is fairly close to a fabricated pond that it might draw some water from, but it is a very drought-resistant tree according to what I've learned so far.
Around my tree are other native flora like prairie grass, and wildflowers like Indian paintbrushes and sunflowers. There is also a pecan tree in the opposite corner of the backyard. In the corner directly in front of my tree, there is a set of fig trees that produce edible fruit in the summer. In the middle of the backyard, there is a big rose garden that was probably put in by the owners of this house. There are so many types of roses in this garden that they all somewhat mesh together in a sea of yellow, pink and red. I can only identify the huge, yellow heirloom roses because my mom identified them earlier this summer. She told me a long story about growing up Pennsylvania and how my great-grandmother used to grow them and take great pride in having heirloom roses. I never understood how the smell, texture, or even just the site of the roses could spark up such a vivid memory as if it happened yesterday. I understand it now, though. The aroma of these roses and the softness of the petals are all wonderful memory triggers. I hope that working more closely with my tree and spending more one-on-one, less visceral time with nature, will create memorable moments for me with nature.
Georgetown, Tx., falls in the temperate deciduous forest, almost into the short grass biome. The lack of precipitation during the summer and the heat index certainly lends itself to the short grass biome, but Georgetown also falls into deciduous forest for its winter climate and type of animals found here — maybe an ecotone between the two? According to the Texas Tree Planting Guide, it is a native of Texas and is very tolerant of droughts, poorly drained sites, and alkaline soils. This leads me to believe that this tree might actually be original to this backyard, or that someone very knowledgeable of native Texas plants picked my tree precisely for its tolerances to the temperate deciduous forest/short grass biome.
According to Floridata, an online encyclopedia of plants and nature, the soapberry tree is often found around the coast but does well in any deciduous climate. Historic uses include the berry of the soapberry tree, often called a soap nut, being used medicinally for many purposes. In the Floridata Encyclopedia, the Ayurveda of the Indian Subcontinent are especially noted as using these soap nuts. "A solution of soap nuts and water is used to treat eczema, psoriasis and head lice, as well as internal disorders including epilepsy and migraines. Saponin, an active ingredient in soap nuts, is reported to have anti-tumor properties. Jewelers use soap nuts to clean precious metals."
Historically the soapberry was also " ... traditionally used in India to wash clothes and hair. The Indian names for soap nut are Ritha, Doadni, Doda or Dodan. In China and Japan, it has been used as a remedy for centuries. In Japan the pericarp (berry) is called enmei-hi, which means 'life prolonging pericarp' and in China wu-huan-zi, the 'non-illness fruit.'"
Now the soapberry is having a resurgence of use as a natural surfactant. I found an article from Personal Care Magazine Online that stated, "The trend towards natural ingredients is growing and a vegetable-derived surfactant is becoming increasingly desirable and required by many 'green' formulators. Natural surfactants from soap nut shell fulfill all the relevant requirements on surfactants and provide many additional benefits." This tree has spanned across the globe and continues to be used!
Through reading and research, I have discovered that the soapberry family originated in the Orient (Asia, etc.) and migrated to America. The soapberry tree then adapted to become many different variations in each biome according to where it settled. Maybe this happened through Angel Island and Asian immigrants coming to America in the early 1900s.
I think through this adaptation, though, it became close to a native plant — or maybe it crossbred with a native plant already in America. Maybe it was the opposite, maybe the soapberry traveled from America to the Orient? Whatever the process might have been, native plant species are very important to ecosystem health because of the sustainability and place that each plant has within an ecosystem. Native plants use less water when put in their specific biome in which they belong. They could also be the food source to herbivores or omnivores in their biome. If misplaced, they could throw off the food chain. If not placed in their specific biome, they could struggle for water/consume others' water, over shade/under shade, and more!
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