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Is it harmful to nail something to a tree?

January 3, 2011

Sometimes you see nails in trees, often because people want to post a sign. Is that dangerous to the tree?

To begin with, I think it is ugly! To post a sign on a tree shows disrespect of life and beauty, and upsets many people, especially educated Buddhists. Somebody wanting to sell something get bad publicity immediately.

When hammering a nail into a tree, you penetrate the bark which opens the door to pathogenic fungi which may invade and damage or even kill the tree. If an insect bites a hole in the bark, that is also dangerous, but unless it is a borer, the wound is shallow and can be healed quickly. A fungal infection of a shallow wound may be counteracted by the tree, which forms chemicals to block the growth of the fungus. The actual nail may act as a syringe, inoculating pathogens deep into the tree. If the pathogenic fungus can reach the xylem, the water transporting canals, it may use these as elevator shafts for quickly invading the tree.

When you prune a tree, you cut a living branch. The wound may invite pathogenic fungi, but by making a clean cut with a saw (not a machete) near the base of the branch, you allow the tree to swiftly cover the wound with new tissue. It is important not to damage the main trunk, for example by sawing from the top and then let the branch fall down by its own weight, ripping the bark of the main trunk. An infection of the main trunk due to careless pruning or nails may kill or seriously distort the shape of the tree.

The metals of the actual nail may also affect the tree. When the nail corrodes, dissolved metals may toxify it. A tree in a weakened stage may die from other stress such as drought.

Infections may or may not happen due to the wound. The tree may very well overcome the nail and survive, but when the sign falls down, the secondary growth of the tree trunk will embed the nail inside the tree. If the nail does not corrode, somebody using a chainsaw in the future may hit the nail and have an unpleasant surprise.

Would a string be better? No, that would be worse, as a metal string may strangle the tree. Simply leave the tree alone. If you necessarily have to post a sign, use concrete posts.

Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden

This old Dipterocarpus tuberculatus is packed with wild Bulbophyllum orchids. It was the largest and most beautiful tree in the vicinity, and the only one carrying orchids. Somebody climbed high up on a ladder to post a Christian message using four nails. The Thai law states that somebody posting a sign need a permission and has to pay tax. In this case the illegal message is high up and anonymous to escape removal and tax. Similar black and yellow Christian signs are seen all over northern Thailand, often using the largest and most valuable tree as living planks. The people who did this are unaware that they seriously upset the educated Buddhists as well as good Christians who believe that God’s creation (the tree) tells the message far better than cheap slogans. For an advertiser, a nail in a tree may be a nail in the foot!

(This blog is a part of a series of blogs during the UN year of the forests 2011).

Dokmai Garden aims at imparting knowledge about the nature of northern Thailand. We believe education is the way to a happier world. Here is another interesting article about Thai education. We thank Khun Voranai at Bangkok Post for being brave and frank.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Martina permalink
    January 3, 2011 11:38 PM

    Hey Eric!
    what a good post! people should realise that trees are not here to support our signs, lamps etc. but helping to produce oxygen to support all of the life on our planet.

    • January 4, 2011 9:08 AM

      Dear Martina,

      So good to hear from you. Everyone: this is Martina who has a British education as a tree surgeon. She and Don Cox are the only people trusted to touch our trees.

      About oxygen, yes, they do produce, but the roots consume, and when they die the oxygen needed for degradation is quite substantial. I think the latest suggestion from the ecologists is that we have to thank the cyanobacteria for the original oxygen a few billion years ago, and they did not degrade quickly because when they died they sank to the bottom of the oceans. If anyone has the latest research on this matter, please share!

      Eric & Kate

  2. January 11, 2011 8:19 PM

    Two years ago I travelled north out of Amphoe Muang, Sakhorn Nakhorn in the general direction of Udorn Ratchatani.
    In the Phu Phan Mountain Range there is an ancient Khmer style, unfinished temple like building which looks down on the city from afar. To get there one must walk up a long flight of steps and the road leading ther passes a house festooned with these “Pra Jesu” black and yellow signs.

    • January 11, 2011 11:06 PM

      Dear Ricky,

      These signs are well spread in Thailand. We went to northeastern Nan province where Hmong people have eradicated many forests and replaced them with corn. A few solitary trees remain along the backroads, and they carry the black and yellow Jesus signs too. Maybe we should schedule an educational effort with the Thai road authorities within the UN year of the Forests? It is the disrespect for life that opens for clear cutting. People who care for single trees would never allow forest eradication.

  3. February 19, 2013 4:12 AM

    I would have to agree, not only is it harmful towards the tree but it is also aesthetically, unpleasing.

    -Samudaworth Tree Service

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