Published on 04/29/96

Let's Drink to Trees

All of us could live without the fruits and other products we get from trees. But we would have a much poorer quality of life.

When you sit for a morning break, for instance, you may be drinking beverages taken from trees.

Coffee (Coffee arabica) is an evergreen tree 30 feet tall with white flowers and a two-seeded, cherry-like fruit.

Tea (Camellia sinensis) is an evergreen tree that grows to 25 feet in the wild but is usually kept pruned back to four feet high. Only the two endmost leaves are picked from each twig for the best tea. These leaves are then fermented and dried for black tea or dry-heated for green tea.

A common stimulant tea of South America is made from the mat‚ tree (Ilex paraquariensis). Mat‚ is a small holly tree native to Paraguay.

Another common stimulant tree beverage is made from the cola tree (Cola nitida), a native evergreen tree of West Africa.

The cola tree has cream-colored flowers highlighted in red. These flowers produce bumpy green pods that grow in starlike clusters and contain 5-10 nuts each. The cola nuts are used in a number of commercial beverages.

Even the hot chocolate you drink is derived from a native Western-hemisphere tree now grown in West Africa. This leathery-leaf tree is the cocoa (Theobroma cacao), which can grow 40 feet tall.

The tree's pink flowers sprout directly from the woody trunk and develop into hard, ribbed fruits with 20-50 seeds inside. Chocolate fanciers should be thankful the New World was discovered.

Sit down to a cup of spiced cider, and every taste and aroma is from trees. Apple trees, of course, provide the cider. The common spices used to flavor the cider come from trees, too.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is a 60-feet-tall tree from India. It's usually cut back every two years, though, and not allowed to grow more than five feet tall. The tree's outer bark is discarded and the inner bark rolled away for sale.

The other scent of the cinnamon tree is a rotten-smelling flower that attracts many insects.

Cloves (Eugenia aromatica) come from a 40-feet-tall tree that's native to Indonesia but is now planted elsewhere. In plantations, the red flowers aren't allowed to open. The unopened buds are what we see as cloves.

The nutmeg tree (Myristica fragrans) is native to one island group in Indonesia. It can grow 60 feet tall, with fragrant yellow, waxy flowers.

Each nutmeg tree is a single sex. Females produce yellow fruits with brownish-purple seeds that do double-duty by generating two spices. The seeds are nutmeg, and the dried outer seed coating is mace.

As you sip, think about how trees can produce our drinks, a touch of spice, and a hint of glory.

In classical Greek and Roman artwork, leaves from a special tree -- the laurel -- often adorn the heads of great people.

The bay or laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) grows to 60 feet tall and is native to areas around the Mediterranean Sea. Its aromatic, dark green leaves have a wavy edge.

A touch of bay in a cup of beef broth or bay leaves bundled for a victor's laurel crown are similar.

Trees have been pillars of human houses and faithful servants as well. Take a moment to appreciate the things they provide.

Maybe you should plant a tree, or take care of one, to repay your debt.

Kim Coder is a forester with the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.