In this blog I will provide my own stories of the four trees according to Joanna Dean’s theory (Dean 2015). I will also be conducting a photo elicitation linked to my personal stories. A photo elicitation is an interview conducted in which the interviewer interviews the interviewee about specific photo’s. These kinds of interviews are very useful as it stimulates dialogue between the interviewer and the interviewee and it produces useful data (Tinkler 2013).
I will be interviewing three people by showing them my personal photos and explaining my stories in order to inspire my interviewee’s to generate their own stories according to Joanna Dean’s tree throries (Dean 2015). Photos serve as an “icebreaker” in order to create a dialogue (Tinkler 2013: 174). According to Tinkler (2013;178) “photos stimulate people to talk about their thoughts, feelings, memories and experiences, to work things out and, sometimes, to discuss subjects that are difficult to broach in talk-alone interviews”.
Dean speaks about four different tree narratives; namely the service, status, heritage and the unruly tree (Dean 2015). I will speak about my own personal narratives according to these four specific trees and will interview three people from different generations (an elderly person, an adult and a peer) in order to get their four personal narratives.
The Service Tree
A service tree selflessly provides services to human residents in the modern city. The most common service a tree provides is shade and oxygen, however there are many other possible environmental benefits and tree can provide (Dean 2015:163).
Grand-Mami: My grandmother lived in Switzerland when she was a child and a fond memory she has of a tree were the pine trees that grew there. She said that they were the most common trees seen and grown in Switzerland. The service that these trees provided her were in the winter when it was snowing and nearing Christmas, she and her family would go and pick out a pine tree to be cut down and used as a Christmas tree. Although by cutting the tree down she lost the service of shade and oxygen, it provided her and her family with a christmas tradition and fond memories. My grandmother also gave me another story of when she had a Eucalyptus tree in her garden which she used to pick the leaves and boil to use as a medication for colds and flu’s.
Donald: My Father’s service tree was a huge Copper Beech Tree in his grandfather’s garden. As a child my Father used to climb this tree to the very top and his father used to do it too. The tree has been in that garden for over 100 years.This tree services my father as it provided him with a means to play. It acted as a jungle gym and a form of entertainment.
Amy: According to my very good friend Amy, she has had a very similar narrative regarding a tree of service. She has had a Mulberry tree in her garden since she has lived in her house for her entire life. This tree provided Amy and her family with beautiful succulent fruit. This tree is also the biggest tree and sole provider of shade in Amy’s garden. Another small service was using the mulberry leaves to feed silk worms that Amy had as a child. I personally remember as a child visiting Amy and eating the mulberries as well as having picnic’s in her garden underneath the tree.
The Status Tree
A Status tree, also known as the narrative of power, is a tree that represents the human control of nature (Dean 2015:163). Well looked after trees represent growth and power as the community can afford to keep the tree healthy and alive.
Grand Mami: When my Grandmother was younger she went to Los Angeles in America. She remembers noticing how the palm trees are perfectly planted in rows alongside the houses in the suburbs. She also noticed that there were minimal to no trees situated in the city areas. These perfectly planted trees are a symbol of the high class status of the suburbs in Los Angeles as many famous (rich) people live there. The palm trees are symbolic of wealth in the area.
Donald: As a family we often drive down to the Drakensburg to go on holiday. Overtime we drive down my father always notices pine forests that we drive past on the way there. These trees are deliberately planted and grown together for paper. These trees symbolize the power narrative as they were grown and harvested for a purpose and are used to create paper for humans to use.
Amy: Amy’s Status narrative is about the trees that are planted at the bottom of her road. At the bottom of her road lies a park that is considered very dodgy where many homeless sleep and life. There is a barrier of trees that separates Amy’s high class suburb from the grungy park area. In this case the trees have been planted as an act of protection and divide amongst two classes.
The Heritage Tree
A heritage tree is an individual tree with an association to history (Dean 2015:164). This kind of tree is a living memory of an historical event, person, meaning, tradition or place.
Grand Mami: A few years ago, my grandmother and my whole extended family would visit a farm called Horwood farm. According to my grandmother it was the first farm ever in Evenvale which is the area in which my grandmother lives. In 1820 Settlers and voortrekkers planted 2 large oak trees on this farm and today they are now 300 years only and still standing strong on Horwood farm. This farm is also symbolic to my grandmother of all the family gatherings and memories our family made together.
Donald: My father worked for a company called Tshikululu Social Investements. Tshikilulu is the Venda name for the African Rock Fig tree. The name of this company was chosen as a metaphor for the character of the people that the funds support. This tree is able to grow and survive in the harshest of conditions ewith the root system being able to grip the rocks and act as collectors of pools of water on the occasional rain. This tree is symbolic of a company that my father was a huge part of and even today he is still a part of the company.
Amy: Amy’s heritage tree is a Silver birch that has also been in her garden and her life since she was born. As a child Amy believed that this was her ‘Fairy’ tree. One of the fairy’s was actually named Silver birch and her father used to write letters to her from the fairy’s. To this dayAmy still has all of her letters from her father (fairy’s). For Amy this tree is a symbol of her childhood as well as growing up as one day the letters stopped coming. It is also symbolic of the relationship Amy had with her father as a child.
The Unruly Tree
All of the three pervious narratives put a tree to a human purpose (Dean 2015:165) whereas the unruly tree is a contradiction. It is a tree that causes trouble to the human population (Dean 2015:166).
Grand Mami: My grandmother also had a Wattle tree in her garden that grows beautiful yellow flowers. However the flowers would fall on the floor and get stuck to peoples shoes and then make a mess on the floors in my grandmothers house. The tree also irritated people’s eyes and noses and caused awful allergies.
Donald: In my garden is a very large African Stinkwood tree. Although this tree provided maximum shade in our garden it also happen to hang over our swimming pool. The leaves and seeds often fall off into the pool and provide a large amount of work for my father as he is the keeper of the pool. In the summer he has to clean the pool daily as the amount of leaves that fall into the pool are so vast that it blocks the pipes in the pool pump.
Amy: A landscape designer came to Amy’s house that planted a tree in the middle of the lawn. Unfortunately this tree grew and the roots grew down into the plumbing in the ground. The roots wrapped around the pipes and has now caused a huge problem with the plumbing in the house and it is almost impossible to fix without removing the tree and having to redo all of the plumbing in the process.
I can definitely conclude that Tinkler (2013) was right in that using photos to conduct and interview definitely sparks more conversation and gives the interviewee inspiration to remember stories and information that are helpful and relevant in the interview. It is also clear that everyone has a narrative for each tree that Dean (2015) speaks about and therefore his four narratives do apply to everyone’s lives.
Classic portfolio. [sa]. Boschendal Farm – Main werf entrance. [O] Available:
Accessed:11 May 2016
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.
Tree flowers (and fruits). 2007. [O] Available:
Accessed:11 May 2016