Posted by: Steve Devine | December 11, 2009

A different eco-Christmas tree

image of a Christmas tree made up of diatoms

The smallest Christmas tree?

This Christmas tree is fashioned from the shells of diatoms, tiny algae which thrive almost anywhere there is liquid water. Diatoms are found in the slime on wet rocks, in rivers and lakes, and in inconceivable numbers in the open ocean. Although tiny, they are among the most important organisms on the planet. Rather like the stock market, diatoms operate on a boom and bust principle. In the Spring, as environmental conditions improve, populations explode. This produces the “spring bloom” which is a major food source for aquatic ecosystems.

Populations are limited by the availability of dissolved silica, which diatoms use to make their shells. As the year progresses and silica and other nutrients are exhausted, diatoms die in enormous numbers. Sinking into the ocean depths, they lock up unimaginable quantities of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is responsible for global warming. This tiny tree is a reminder of the pivotal role these largely unseen organisms play in regulating the climate of our planet.

The preparation of arranged microslides is a little known pinnacle of the Victorian obsession with natural history collecting. The siliceous skeletons of diatoms, radiolarians and sponges and the scales of butterflies were used to make intricate and beautiful works of art. The Christmas tree in the photo above is only a couple of millimetres tall. It is practically invisible to the unaided eye. Arranged microslides require enormous patience, artistic skill and a very steady hand. Today the art form is all but lost…

David Green

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Responses

  1. […] A different eco-Christmas tree « Nature Manchester David Green Like this: The preparation of arranged microslides is a little known pinnacle of the Victorian obsession with natural history collecting. […]


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