Monday, June 19, 2017

why are the trunks of palm trees painted white?

If you think you know the answer to that question, you don't. Or, you might.

Almost every tourist, when first encountering palm trunks outfitted in pancake makeup, has asked the question. I know I did.

The best thing is that there are plenty of answers. The problem is that no one really knows what the correct answer is. In this world of terminal relativism, maybe they are all correct. Or maybe none are.

These appear to be the top five theories. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

1. The white background exposes dark insects and makes them visible to birds. The birds eat the insects and the tree is freed from predation by crawling critters.

This explanation has a nice green feel to it. Humans are simply helping Mother Nature keep her balance.

2. The second option deals with insects, as well. But a notably darker relationship between man and nature.

The paint is designed to kill insects. We will call this the better-living-through-chemistry option. Dow would be pleased.

The paint is not merely paint. It is latex laced with lime to snuff the bugs -- or latex mixed with a sticky substance to trap insects and let them die a lingering death. Like a puma caught in a leg trap.

There is a great divide in advocates of this choice on whether the insecticide option actually works.

3. The third option smacks of a mother's hand on the cradle. The paint reduces the danger of sunburn in young trees. If the bark is damaged by the sun, it reduces the tree's natural defense against boring beetles. But not boring creators of painted bark explanations.

4. There is the possibility that one of the other options, in the past, was the reason for painting palm trunks. But, now, the primary reason is aesthetic and cultural. Let's call it the Ivanka Trump option.

We have come to expect palm trunks to have a bit of makeup -- or to look as uniform as a line of Rockettes. Without a lot of kicking.

5. But this is my favorite. There is a tale --undoubtedly apocryphal -- that the palm-lined highway in Bermuda from the Officers' Club was the first to have painted trunks. Apparently, after tackling a full bottle or two of Tanqueray, officers driving home were losing battles with palm trees. And the British military was losing officers.

Some brilliant thinker (undoubtedly an enlisted man) came up with the idea that if the trunks were painted white, the officers might have a fighting chance. Apparently, no one thought of the option of hiding the gin.

I like it because it is such a tidy tale -- and has the stamp of authenticy based on my experience with military officers. If there is any truth in it, though, the original story most likely involved a highway safety bureaucrat in Mallorca who had a excess supply of paint for highway lines and could not sell it back to his scoundrel brother-in-law. So, he used it to paint trees.

Even though there is reason to support the highway safety option (you may have already noticed the electricity poles in the second photograph are also painted white), it cannot be the sole answer. Otherwise, why would the trunks of these palm trees on the beach be painted white?

Whoever came up with the Bermuda officer club story would point out that drunks know no boundaries. The trunks are painted white for inebriates who miss their turn and end up driving on the beach.

There is an answer to the question: "Why are the trunks of palm trees painted white?" It is: "How long is a string?"

There are mysteries in life that will forever be mysteries. And this is just another.

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