Trees Are Part of our Roots!


A photo elicitation also known as a photo interview is listening to people’s comments about images to contribute social and historical research (Tinkler. 2013).Images are important because it creates data. They help with “discussion, reflection and recollection” (Tinkler 2013). Pictures and images are studied along with the material that accompanies it as it assists in connecting ideas and concepts to make sense of the work as a whole (Tinkler 2013) .

Pictures and images provoke dialogue and incite discussions (Tinkler 2013). Photographs make the interaction between those involved easier, more comfortable and for the discussion to be more honest and clear (Tinkler 2013). Having visual references arouses feelings and memories that is difficult to be brought up or recognised (Tinkler 2013). Images bring out a more personal side to an interview as it is easier to capture emotions in a photograph.

My photo elicitation will involve tree narratives based on the ideas by Joanna Dean (2015) that meanings and memories we find in stories involving trees influence our decisions to plant, trim and fell trees (Dean. 2016). By using narratives of service, status, heritage and a counter narrative our relationships with trees and how they form part of our identity will be discussed. It includes interviews with three other people as well.



In this narrative, the tree is selflessly providing services to the human residents of an area (Dean 2016). In other words, the tree is a selfless service provider.

Trees provide shade, oxygen and store water, but I remember a tree giving me food. When I was in kindergarten I was a very picky eater and I hated the food that I was given every day. Luckily for me the property next to the school had a mulberry tree that grew over onto our side. If I jumped from the jungle gym I could grab a branch from the tree and eat all the mulberries from it. I was always covered in purple stains from the little berries and my mom had to throw away a couple of my clothes as the stains were permanent. There is a mulberry tree in my street and when I walk past it I still grab a berry or two…

Marcelle: My mother also remembers a mulberry tree as being of service to her. As a little girl she loved to get silkworms every year. She still has silk woven into a heart shape from the worms. She would get on her bike every afternoon after school and ride around her neighbourhood looking for mulberry trees and would get their leaves to feed her worms.

Okkie: My grandfather was a naughty little boy and would hide in trees when he was in trouble. His mother obviously did not want to climb after him and would eventually cool down after having some time to think and then he would climb down. As he got older he used a tree next to his window in boarding school room to climb down in the middle of the night and go steal some fruits from people’s gardens. In his case trees gave him protection and food.

Lize: My cousin had to share a bedroom with her older sister. Being the younger sister she got locked out of her room a lot and two girls being together in a small space led to a lot of arguments. After deciding she had enough my cousin to took to a tree in their garden (she does not know what kind of tree it was). The tree was near a wall and some branches hung over a fountain in their garden, it felt like she was in the jungle. She would bring juice boxes, cookies and book up there and sit on one the branches.



In this narrative, the tree symbolises the human control of nature (Dean 2016). The row of trees serves as grace and power.

I realised the effect trees had on indicating class when driving past the Hammanskraal shanty town / township. There were no trees to be seen. The landscape was dry and the red sand make red dust clouds everywhere. Driving through an area like Waterkloof, the difference of class becomes quite clear. Waterkloof has big trees that have obviously been growing there for a while, they take lots of water and almost form an arch over the streets that reminds of a palace or people saluting you. It cost a lot of money to live green. The big trees show magnitude and thus class and power.  

Marcelle: She remembers trees showing class in India. She was there for a congress and remembers seeing no trees or even something green for days, the city was overcrowded and poverty was visible everywhere. When she visited the temples around India she became aware of trees growing there and remembers the grass and trees planted in rows at the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal reminded her of immense richness and holiness. The trees were only at places of importance and showed status.

Okkie: He grew up on a farm and remembers only a few trees. The area was more bush like and some of the people around them were really poor. He remembers moving to Cape Town to attend the university there. He would walk through the streets at Stellenbosch and remembers how fascinated he was by the big trees in gardens and on the sidewalks. They were obviously old and reminded him, also like it does me, of arches.

Lize: Palm trees remind my cousin of class and status. She claims that palm trees remind her of a tropical island and drinking cocktails on the beach. Seeing a palm tree next to a pool makes her feel like she is at a tropical beach. Then she feels like she is living the life of the rich.



In this narrative, the beauty of an individual specimen and its associations with human history is emphasised (Dean 2016). The tree is a living symbol of the past.

The Wonderboom in Pretoria is about a thousand years old. Legend states that the tree grew to its size because the chief of an indigenous tribe is buried underneath its roots. The tree was also once big enough to provide shade for about a thousand people, or twenty ox wagons. The tree has been damaged by fire in 1870 and a parasitic disease. This tree has seen so much South African History. Also being in Hoërskool Wonderboom made the tree a big part of my life.

Marcelle: She was born and raised in Pretoria and thus the purple Jacarandas throughout the whole city are nothing new to her. Being a student at The University of Pretoria she knows the story of the Jacaranda falling on your head means good luck during the exams, and she would stand underneath the trees and pray for one to fall onto her head. According to her, “Pretoria would not be Pretoria without the purple flowers creating a carpet on the roads”.

Okkie: My dad thinks the Baobab Tree Bar in Modjadjiskloof is a good story of a tree representing our heritage. This tree is the biggest Baobab in the world and its hollow tree trunk has been converted into a bar serving proudly South African beverages. As Baobabs become older their trunks become hollow. This shows how old the tree is, it has been in Limpopo for over 1700 years.  His favourite tree is a Baobab tree and symbolises Africa.

Lize: She had a yellowwood tree in her backyard. It is the national tree of South Africa. Looking at the tree makes it quite obvious as to why this tree is viewed as so special as it is very big and beautiful. She went for a hike in the Tsitsikama forest and remembers the old yellowwoods covered in moss there. It always reminds her of being South African and why our country is so beautiful.



In this narrative trees cause trouble (Dean 2016). The trees are behaving badly and refuse to stay in line. Trees are wild and part of nature, they cannot conform to what we want.

(Photo of Jacarandas because I had none of the Gingko tree and two interviewees had a problem with the Jacaranda tree)

We had a Vrouehaarboom (better known to the rest of the world as a Gingko Biloba tree) in our yard. Although we use this tree and its fruits in lots of medicinal products, having it in your own garden is not as pleasant. The seeds falling from the trees stink a lot! It reminds one of vomit. My entire room would smell. In addition to that, the bark of the trees caused an allergic reaction when it rubbed against your skin, similar to poison ivy it burned your skin. It was truly a horror and we eventually decided to remove this Chinese tree from or garden. This tree has some good medicinal properties, but it does not come without a cost.

Marcelle: My mother recently had to make a big choice.  Our Johannesburg Gold tree was starting to lift up the wall surrounding or house. It was a big tree that provided us with a lot of privacy and cutting it down would have a major impact on how our house would look as well as privacy because without it people could see straight to our pool. After the wall was so skew that it could fall at any minute we cut down the tree.

Okkie: His pool is one of the bluest and clearest pools throughout the year and has tempted many to even go swimming in winter. My granddad takes pride in his pool and spends a good hour everyday cleaning it. The Jacaranda trees on the sidewalk however has grown so big that it towers overs his wall and this results in his pool being filled with the purple flowers. It clogs his pool pump and attracts insects to the water. He has to physically remove all the flowers and it gets harder to do as he becomes older. He tried to poison the tree by throwing petrol on its roots, but it seems to have made the tree grow bigger. The little purple flowers also litter his big green yard.

Lize: My cousin is also not fond of Jacaranda trees. These trees attract bees and she is highly allergic. She got stung almost every year when she was at school as she had to sit on the lawn during recess where the tree threw its flowers on the ground. It resulted in her being rushed to the hospital one two occasions. Recently she went jogging and slipped on the Jacarandas covering the sidewalk and as luck would have it landed with hand on a bee in one of the flowers on the ground. She was rushed to hospital again as her injection did not act fast enough.



These narratives show that Dean (2016) was right when she referred to trees as symbols. We do not see the wildness of trees anymore, we see how they fit into our Anthropocene. Trees and humans are tied together and they have been here long before us.

WE use trees.

Trees show OUR status.

Trees remind US of OUR heritage.

WE try to control nature.

WE, US, HUMANS have become a problem in nature as we forget that WE were meant to look after it.



Dean, J. 2015. The unruly tree: stories from the archives, in Urban forests, trees, and   greenspace:   a political ecology perspective, edited by LA Sandberg, A Bardekjian & S Butt. New York: Routledge:162-175.

Tinkler, P. 2013. Using photographs in social and historical research. London: SAGE.

Unknown. 2013. Taung Daily News. [O]. Available from .(Accessed on 6 May 2016)

Unknown. 2016. Women 24. [O]. Available from on 6 May 2016)





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