from the world's big
London is a forest, and this map explores its trees
TreeTalk finds rare arboreal treasures among London's common foliage.
- The world's largest urban forest, London counts nearly as many trees as it does people.
- TreeTalk identifies about 700,000 of them, both common species and rarities.
- Explore them yourself, or have the algorithm pick out a route from a starting point of your choice.
World's largest urban forest
View of London from Sawyer's Hill in Richmond Park.
Image: Maxwell Hamilton, CC BY 2.0
Did you know that London qualifies as a forest? The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization defines a forest as a contiguous area with at least 10 percent tree canopy cover. Greater London's trees manage more than double that (21 percent).
But then there are no less than 8.4 million of the leafy bastards standing around London's 600 square miles – that's almost one for every Londoner. So, it's not entirely surprising that London is, according to the UK's own Forestry Commission, 'the world's largest urban forest.'
Similar to its human inhabitants, London's trees are a cosmopolitan bunch with origins all over the world. No British city has a wider diversity of tree species. You can now explore that diversity in all its glory thanks to TreeTalk, a web page which identifies 700,000 individual trees throughout Greater London and generates tree walks from the starting point of your choice.
If you're currently confined to Britain's metropolis, the web page – also available as a smartphone app (Android only for now) – is an interesting way to spice up your daily exercise walks and learn a bit about your immediate surroundings. And if you're a London junkie pandemically deprived of a visit, TreeTalk offers a novel way to virtually stroll through your favorite city.
A rather rarer import from Wuhan: the Chinese photinia.
Zoom in and click on any tree; or type in an address or postal code to auto-generate a walking tour of the area. You'll find species that are common as muck, and with just a little bit of luck you'll come across trees in three categories of rarity: bronze (less than 400 specimens throughout the city), silver (75 or less), and gold (10 or less).
For example, go to Westbourne Gardens, in West London's Paddington area: there you'll find the only four specimens of the Chinese photinia that TreeTalk has identified so far in all of London. Widely used as a greening plant in Chinese cities, the tree is omnipresent along all major avenues in Wuhan – yes, that Wuhan.
Yet Wuhanites are less than keen on the semen-like smell its flowers spread each spring, and some have called for the trees to be replaced. No such complaints seem to have been registered yet by the photinias' Paddingtonian neighbors.
Older than the dinosaurs
A tree walk starting and finishing at Cavendish Square, a leafy refuge just off Oxford Circus.
Another example: set your sights on lovely Cavendish Square, a small park just off busy Oxford Circus popular with office workers on their lunch break. The square is dominated by London planes (#20 on the map), one of the more common street trees in Central London.
TreeTalk's auto-generated route around the area leads past common trees like the ash (#1), the chanticleer pear (#3) and the fastigiate Norwegian maple (#6), but also along such rarities as the monkey puzzle tree (#9; only 32 found so far in London), the hackberry (#17; and only 17 in London) and the variegated wedding cake tree (#11; only 15 in London).
Less rare but still remarkable are a ginkgo (#4), a species older than the dinosaurs; one of less than 200 olive trees in London (#12); and the tree of heaven (#16), also known as the 'ghetto palm', because it thrives on wasteland.
From A to B
A walk south of the river, past some of London's rare and common tree species.
Yet another option: pick an A and a B, and see which trees connect your walk between both points. Like this amble from London Bridge to Parliament Square, along omnipresent species (and their variants) like ash (#1), lime (#2, #5), maple (#4, #7, #13), birch (#14), and cherry (#16, #17), and rarer ones like the box elder (#3), the Japanese privet (#9), and the Portuguese laurel (#11) – only two of which have been identified in London.
#20 on this walk is, again, a London plane. Ubiquitous in the center, this tree is considered 'native' to the city, but its past is a bit more complicated than that. The species was discovered in the 17th century in a nursery garden in Vauxhall, on the south bank of the Thames.
London planes in Berkeley Square.
Image: Justinc, CC BY-SA 2.0
'Discovered' is the right word, as it was unknown before. The London plane may be a hybrid between an Oriental plane, brought to Britain in the 16th century, and an American sycamore, imported in the early 17th century. One of each was indeed present in that Vauxhall nursery.
As it turned out, the 'new' species was well suited to its urban environment: it's not too picky with regard to soil, it requires little root space, and its flaky bark easily sheds pollutants. It flourishes despite pollarding and can grow up to 30 meters tall.
Because of those qualities, the London plane was chosen for mass plantings across the city, to provide much-needed greenery during its rapid expansion in the 19th century. But the London plane is not just hardy, it's also quite ornamental. The 30-odd specimens planted in Berkeley Square in 1789 are among the oldest and grandest in London.
Why 'leafy' means 'affluent'
Trees are useful, valuable and pleasant assets for any city.
Trees are an important asset to any city, and not just for their grandeur. They provide shade and prevent flooding, store carbon, and help cool nearby buildings. A recent iTree study figures that London's trees suck out 2,261 tons of pollution from the air each year and that their total environmental benefit amounts to about £132.7 ($164.6) million per year.
But grandeur also counts for something. Literally, in fact: It's been shown that tree-lined streets boost house prices by as much as 15 percent. No wonder 'leafy' is code for 'affluent'.
Despite its iconic status, the London plane is not the city's most prevalent species. In Inner London, it's birch (12 percent), followed by lime (6 percent) and apple (6 percent) trees. Sycamore (8 percent), English oak (8 percent) and hawthorn (7 percent) are the most common in Outer London.
The iTree study recorded 126 species, not counting the 2,000 species and varieties found at Kew Gardens.
Thomas Hardy's handiwork
The Hardy Tree: 'designed' by Thomas Hardy, before he turned his hand at writing.
Image: cisko66, CC BY 3.0
For its part, TreeTalk describes more than 600 species, but it is far from complete. It provides information on just 700,000 specimens – not even 10 percent of Greater London's overall total. That's because some of London's 33 boroughs have not yet or not completely provided data on the trees in their area.
For another take on London's arboreal heritage, check out the Great Trees of London, a collection of 54 of the city's most remarkable trees, as chosen by the Londoners themselves.
This list was born in the aftermath of the Great Storm of 1987, which felled around 15 million trees across the country. The Countryside Commission selected 41 much-loved survivors suggested by the public, a list that was later expanded to 61 – sadly, six trees have since been lost.
They include such venerable ancients as the Royal Oak of Richmond Park, which is around 750 years old; the Hardy Tree at St Pancras Old Church, surrounded by a macabre arrangement of decommissioned gravestones; one of the London planes in Berkeley Square; and the Totteridge Yew, which may be more than 2,000 years old – older than London itself.
Strange Maps #1028
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.