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Transforming perspectives

Author:  Mark Buglioni
Last Updated:  01/08/2023

Understanding morphophysiology with Giovanni Morelli and Stefania Gasperini

Mark Buglioni, Assistant Technical Officer

Stefania and Giovanni speaking about morphophysiology

Stefania and Giovanni speaking about morphophysiology to the attendees at the event in the grounds of Easthampstead Park.

An informed perspective is a characteristic of a skilled professional. Professionals act according to acquired knowledge and make confident decisions based on developed perspectives.

Nevertheless, professionally gathered perspectives are regularly challenged. Adopting new perspectives, new understanding, and new skills advances professional practice. In an industry as dynamic as arboriculture, professional perspectives are constantly challenged and evolving. Learning about morphophysiology with Stefania Gasperini and Giovanni Morelli transformed my fundamental understanding of tree behaviour, how I would approach tree risk management, and my perspective as a learning tree professional.

On 8th June, the Arboricultural Association hosted Italian tree specialists Stefania Gasperini and Giovanni Morelli at Easthampstead Park in Wokingham for a special one-off event on tree morphophysiology. Stefania and Giovanni collectively bring decades of arboricultural education, research, and professional experience at the forefront of the tree care industry. Their study of and presentation on morphophysiology build on the principles of tree architecture, first conceived by French scientists Francis Hallé and Roelof Oldeman, and the further expansion of morphophysiological research by Pierre Raimbault. Morphophysiology is a practical and researched perspective on tree form, growth, life cycles, decay, and veteran/ancient trees.

Stefania and Giovanni presenting morphophysiology
Delegates in the grounds of Easthampstead Park
Delegates in the grounds of Easthampstead Park

At the stunning venue, we listened and learned, in English and Italian, radical ways to think about tree growth. Over 70 attendees engaged with the speakers and consulted with each other while interacting with brilliant trees on the historic property. Stefania and Giovanni challenged the audience and in return received questions and queries as the group confronted tree morphophysiology together.

If you are unfamiliar with Stefania and Giovanni’s presenting style, like I was before the event, you should know they intricately work in collaboration. Giovanni, with great physical animation, unravels the concepts and ideas in Italian. Following a slight, contemplative pause, Stefania fluently translates the ideas into English for the group to understand. This process was seamless, except the occasional short and spirited discussion in Italian. The group frequently laughed and smiled as the speakers conveyed their ideas in a fun and engaging atmosphere. The material and figures were biologically complex at times, but seeing practical examples of different oak trees in the gardens helped us to understand the concepts.

Tree morphophysiology examines natural tree growth behaviour through time. The concept divides aerial and underground tree growth into five phases and further subdivides these phases into stages. The crown, stem, and roots are analysed independently and collectively to display the dynamic changes trees undergo over time and the different management techniques that are appropriate within each stage. Based on these morphophysiological groups, we can analyse a tree’s architectural structure which gives us a window into the past state, present state, and future state of the tree. Morphophysiology promotes the acceptance of natural tree behaviour that is sometimes seen publicly as detrimental to the tree, such as cavities and branch loss. We learned how, with a basic understanding of morphophysiology, we can promote the protection and preservation of trees by better predicting future changes in growth. Trees can move through the stages in sequential order, jump stages, or even return to previous stages, effectively creating a loop of an individual tree’s architectural life cycle.

The idea of morphophysiology is a progressive way to think about how trees mature. Its concepts are relevant to tree nurseries, practising arborists, consultants, and the public. Morphophysiology challenges how we understand trees to live, grow, move, and change and provides a framework for better management of trees. In issue 190 of the ARB Magazine (autumn 2020), you can read more about the morphophysiological approach to tree management in an article written by Stefania and Giovanni. Their passion and dedication to the subject are evident in their writings and presentation.

As Giovanni and Stefania explained at the event, and as we all know, arboriculturists can change the future of a tree’s life (for better or for worse). Trees are beings that can live and extend beyond many human lifetimes. They are diverse, complex, and provide endless benefits to us. We have a duty, a responsibility, and a privilege to seek out and host perspectives that protect and promote trees for professional practice and public interest. My perspective was challenged learning the groundwork of morphophysiology, and I departed the event a better arborist and professional.

Stefania and Giovanni explained it best by stating: ‘Every tree is worth investing in.’ In a world facing countless environmental challenges and threats, I think this is a perspective everyone should adopt.

Mark Buglioni

My name is Mark Buglioni and I am temporarily working with the Arboricultural Association, having travelled from Vancouver, Canada. I am very grateful to work for the Association and explore and learn the tree care industry in the UK. Before working with the Association, I was an Apprentice Arborist in Vancouver and studied Urban Forestry at the University of British Columbia. I am an ISA Certified Arborist and ISA Tree Risk Assessment Qualified.

The trees here are a little different to those in Canada, and the vocabulary took some adjusting to, but the people are exceptionally welcoming and friendly. I am looking forward to continuing learning, meeting new people, and exploring the landscape in the coming months.

This article was taken from Issue 202 Autumn 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.