Posted: 02/25/2006


PBS Nature: Queen of Trees


by Shannon Huebscher

Thirteen/WNET’s Nature reveals the importance of an unlikely partnership in the queen of trees, March 26 on PBS.

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Growing up I had a crabapple tree in my backyard, and every spring when it would blossom, the flowers were amazing. But as the flowers wilted and made way for the crabapples to grow and ripen, they would drop onto our concrete patio and become engrossed by insects and put off a horrible stench. After watching the NATURE documentary Queen of Trees, I have come to appreciate this process, rather than look back on it with a not-so-fond memory.

This documentary captured the amazing relationships that formulate in the wild, all from what they call the “Queen” of all trees, the fig tree. They documented one tree in Africa that was over one hundred years old and lived along the shore of a lazy river. On the outside this tree doesn’t look any different or any more spectacular than any other tree—but we soon learn that appearances are deceiving.

We are introduced to the amazing synergy that survives from the life of these fig trees, and how all of these different animals depend on the fig tree for their own survival. The most important of which is the fig wasp, which through an extraordinarily beautiful process laid their eggs within the fig fruit and help to pollinate the tree. With the help of some amazing up close camera shots, both into the tree as well as into some of the fig fruits themselves, we are a first hand witness to a process that has evolved over millions of years. We learn that the ants that live on this tree do not hurt the tree, but rather protect it from other parasitic insects that try to make the fig fruit and bark their home. We watch the beautiful grey hornbills in their nest in the fig tree and their growth from youngster to mature bird. We witness monkeys and deer and even elephants come to enjoy the fig fruits at their ripest moment.

It is an amazing portrayal of a life that we rarely get to see, and to one that we get to sympathize with. For example, with the fig wasps, we learn about an amazing journey their life brings them on. The male fig wasps have no wings, so their only purpose in life is to free the female wasps from their egg sacks within the fig fruits, fertilize them, and then crawl out of the fig fruit and fall to their death. It is a short life that is lived only for one purpose, and it was so moving to watch them work so diligently at the only thing they have ever known how to do.

A truly moving documentary, Queen of Trees will captivate and inspire you to take a second look at that old crabapple tree in your backyard.

Shannon Huebscher is a film critic and writer living in the Midwest.

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