Saturday, September 20, 2008

Plane tree bark

click photo to enlarge
I remember reading a while ago that the reason antelopes have light coloured hair on the lower sides and underneath of their bodies is to better camouflage them by counteracting the effect of the shadow thrown by light coming from above. Thus, to a lion the antelope's body is less three-dimensional and therefore less visible. The writer noted that this kind of colouration is common across many mammal species, birds and fish. Whether evolution has caused these animals to develop like this to protect them from predators, or whether another reason is responsible for the phenomenon, I don't know, but the theory certainly sounds plausible.

And yet, if it were effective, wouldn't we see the principle being used in the camouflage paint schemes that are applied to tanks and other military vehicles? Military aircraft are often darker above and lighter below, but I imagine that is more to do with making them harder to see from above and below rather than from the side.

In fact, camouflage is an interesting science that has evolved over time. Take the battledress of infantry soldiers. It wasn't until the mid-nineteenth century that bright colours, designed to distinguish armies from each other stopped being used, and were replaced by "earth" colours intended to make the individuals less conspicuous. And not until the mid-twentieth century were khaki, lovat, green, field grey, white (in snow), etc. replaced by multicoloured patterns that sought to break up the outline of the wearer even more effectively. Today the early two-tone green and brown have given way to mottled effects of three or more "earth" colours whose shades and pattern are changed with the latitude and landscape in which an army is deployed.

I was reflecting on this as I photographed the bark of this plane tree (Platanus hispanica). The colours and shapes reminded me very much of modern battle-dress camouflage, and I wondered if the designers had been inspired by this tree that is found in many of our urban and suburban areas. The attractiveness of the bark is obvious, but military camouflage is quite seductive too otherwise it wouldn't have found its way into high street fashions! Incidentally, this is the second shot of plane tree bark that I have taken this year, though the previous tree was in another town altogether, and quite different.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On