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What Was the Missing Ingredient?

What Was the Missing Ingredient?
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“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Matthew 7:26-27

They stand upright. They breathe. Like us humans, they are made of mostly water. What are they?


Early in elementary school, we are taught about our dependence on our forest friends for every breath we take. Every autumn, as leaves change, fall, wither, scatter and disappear, we watch with wonder. We relate. Even our anatomy resonates: branches fill our lungs, our trunks support our limbs, our nerves have roots, and a stem connects our brain and spinal cord. The tree-human relationship is special and always has been.

So, imagine how scientists must have scratched their heads when the trees in Biosphere 2, a research facility in Arizona constructed to mimic and study Earth systems, began falling over before they reached full maturation.  Supposedly, every natural condition necessary for the healthy growth of trees had been recreated inside Biosphere 2. Why were the trees so fragile? 

The answer to this question is considered one of the most important discoveries of the Biosphere 2 project. Eventually, scientists uncovered the essential, missing ingredient for the healthy maturation of trees: wind.

A lack of wind inside Biosphere 2 changed the composition of wood in the trees. Without sufficient wind, less “stress wood,” or wood with a higher cellulose content, developed in their trunks.  Without enough stress wood, these trees could not position themselves for proper sun absorption. They grew fast, but the wood was not solid enough to support this growth, so they fell over prematurely.

Wind. Without the stress that wind creates, trees look like they are flourishing. They grow tall. They even grow rapidly. But, beneath that good-looking bark lies yet another tree-human connection: without wind, we collapse quickly too.

Closing Prayer
God of Creation, what lessons you have for us in nature! We thank you for teaching us through all that You have created. When stress comes our way today, remind us that it is like the wind that helps prepare trees for growth. We don’t want to grow too fast and collapse. We want to be strong enough to position ourselves to absorb your love and guidance. We want to grow in ways that are sustainable so that we can do the work You have for us. Teach us how to welcome the windstorms. Amen.
Question for Reflection

How can the discovery of the missing ingredient in Biosphere 2 help you today?

Holly Pennington
January 20, 2023

When I think of the trees in the Biosphere 2, I imagine they were beauties. Everything looked good. I bet the scientists were in awe of how fast they grew tall. Maybe they were even proud of the work they did to create such “perfect” conditions. This story helps reorient me to the truth that I am vulnerable to this same kind of response. Too often, I praise speed and height more than I examine the health of roots, in my own life and in the images that surround me each day. Today, I aspire to tend to my roots, welcome the wind and not be fooled by “fast and tall” things.