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This is What Happened When an Australian City Gave Trees Email Addresses

Trees get fan mail and even write back to Melburnian residents

(W. Meier/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

They provide shade, air to breathe, and an undeniable sense of grandeur. But would you ever write a letter to the tree? Officials in Melbourne, Australia have discovered that for many, the answer is a resounding yes — The Guardian’s Oliver Milman reports that when they rolled out a program that assigned email addresses to trees in a bid to help identify damage and issues, they discovered that city residents preferred to write them love letters instead.

The city is calling it “an unintended but positive consequence” of their attempt to help citizens track tree damage. On their urban forest data site, Melbourne assigned ID numbers and email addresses to each of the city’s trees so it would be easier to catch and rehabilitate damaged trees.

Then the emails began to arrive. Milman writes that instead of damage reports, people began to write fan mail to trees, complimenting their looks and leaves and telling tales of how they’d helped them survive during inclement weather. Some trees even write back.

The effort is part of a larger initiative to protect Melbourne’s 70,000 city-owned trees from drought and decline. But it turns out that Melburnians have always been arboreal enthusiasts: the city council notes that in the 1880s, residents wrote begging for the planting of blue gum eucalyptus trees to “absorb bad gasses” emanating from a nearby manure depot.

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