Recently, I found myself explaining Urban Plant Research to several quantum physicists from the Helmholtz-Zentrum in Berlin. I felt a bit sheepish describing our not-very-scientific approach to “research” and didn’t expect these real scientists to think much of such a whimsical project. But one of them, Elisa Wheeler, was very enthusiastic, sharing her own story of odd plants struggling in a manmade environment.
Elisa told me of the trees at the ILL research reactor in Grenoble, France, where she often travels to conduct experiments. She had often noticed that the trees planted around the reactor bend away from it, growing only on one side. I made her promise to bring me back some photos from her next research trip.
A few weeks later I received the image above and the following message:
So I’m just back from Grenoble and with only one picture for you. They have re planted many of the trees around the reactor campus so the specific tree I had in mind seems to have gone in the cull. In any case here is a picture of one oldish tree left standing!
…Grenoble sits at the foothills of the Alps so the mountains rise up all around the town. The reactor is in a campus with a synchrotron and other scientific labs but its nice to walk out and see the mountains all around. You can see that in the front of the reactor there is a bit of a garden with a sculpture in cast iron. Anyway the trees seems to naturally bend away from the reactor which is probably (hopefully?) more to do with wind flow than the reactor its self. We’ll see what the new trees do!
Thanks for the report, Elisa! I read about the safety of the reactor and its low radiation levels on the ILL website, but they do not discuss how radiation affects trees. Please do take some pictures of the new trees as they grow up.