“Money doesn’t grow on trees”. In essence, that is what we are constantly being told in universities. If we, as staff, point out the discrepancy between that message and the fact that UK universities are engaged in huge building projects both on local campuses and abroad, we are told (again in essence) “university finances are very complex”.
Of course finances are very complex, but many people participating in the current UK university strikes object to being denied their expertise. There are pension experts and financial risk experts in universities: why were they not involved in decision making? (This is a rhetorical question.)
I am certainly no expert in matters of pensions. But I am an expert in the history of botany, and I can tell you that money trees do exist. I am not referring here to the succulent plant commonly known as “money tree” (Crassula ovata (Miller) Druce), but rather to various folkloric trees that are made to bear money.
As it happens, I came across one such tree – a wish tree – during a walk yesterday near Symonds Yat, a village straddling the river Wye. From the car park on the East side of the river, you access the river via a steep flight of steps. It is midway down (or up in our case, as we did a circular walk) that you can see a felled wish tree. This is a tree into whose bark coins were hammered. Hammering a coin is the equivalent of throwing a coin into a public fountain – it is supposed to bring good luck.
I do not know whether this particular tree was first used for wishing purposes after it had been felled (there are also examples of wish stumps) or before, when it was still a living tree. If the latter, it is possible that the tree died of metal poisoning, which is rather sad but also very evocative: poisoning by money.
To my knowledge, there are no recorded examples of money trees in antiquity, but there are examples of trees to which offerings were made (see here for the example of Xerxes’ plane tree). The philosopher Theophrastus (sometimes referred to as ‘the father of botany’) tells us about one such tree: a wild olive in the market-place of Megara (not far from Athens):
This happened with the wild olive in the market-place at Megara; there was an oracle that, if this were cut open, the city would be taken and plundered, which came to pass when Demetrius took it. For, when this tree was split open, there were found greaves and certain other things of Attic workmanship hanging there, the hole in the tree having been made at the place where the things were originally hung on it as offerings. Of this tree a small part still exists, and in many other places further instances have occurred (Theophrastus, Enquiry into Plants 5.2.4; translation Arthur Hort).
Now that we have “established” that all sorts of things – including money – can grow on trees, can we please have our pensions back and return to work? Pretty please!
My premises are false, you tell me…