This is a question I never thought I’d ask. (I ask a lot of questions I never thought I’d ask these days… Thanks, China.) Honestly, I’ve seen some trees painted in the U.S., but never ALL the trees, all at the same time.
First, we speculated that it had something to do with needing to keep all the old people busy. All the landscapers and gardeners here are little old guys and gals who wear construction worker neon yellow suits and carry brooms made of switches and drive little trucks around the city. I can almost guarantee that all the trees in this photo were painted by sexagenarians.
Then we thought maybe it’s some kind of sealant against the coming winter. (It’s more like “winter” here because evidently it doesn’t get below zero fahrenheit and rarely drops below freezing.
Then a few friends on Facebook suggested it was in response to insects. Or as a way to make the tree trunks reflective so drivers can see them at night. These seemed like reasonable ideas, but we still weren’t convinced.
Turns out it’s for a variety of reasons, none of which are really discussed. None of my Chinese colleagues or friends could give a solid answer, and the internet gave me more questions than answers. Reasons I found online include:
- protecting trees from insects (but there are so few insects here it worries me)
- preventing bark from suffering sun scald (but we’re heading into winter)
- increasing visibility (but some of the trees painted are pretty far away from the road, so reflectivity wouldn’t really matter)
- keeping rabbits from eating the bark (but I have yet to see any small rodents of any variety here)
None of these reasons really seem fitting here in Suzhou, though. Nor do any of the websites seem to have truly authoritative responses. These aren’t citrus or nut trees. They haven’t recently been pruned. They don’t have bark damage.
These may just be trees painted for the sake of painting trees. Or just to keep all the retirees busy. We don’t know.