There’s something that has puzzled me ever since I first visited Romania in 2005.
As you drive through the towns and countryside, meandering through sometimes painfully poor villages, all the tree trunks are painted white, uniformly to a metre up the trunk, where the paint just stops. All the trees are like this.
After observing this the first time by the roadside, I asked my host and she told me that the reason for painting the trees was to make up for the lack of roadside lighting in the night. Apparently the paint made the trees more visible, so reduced the number of crashes.
Fair enough, I thought and thought no more of it until I walked through an orchard. All the trees were painted for the first metre of the tree again, all the way through the orchard. Weird.
My host explained this away by saying that it was for the drunk people who tended to shortcut through fields on the way home when they stumbled back from the pub.
Now I started to smell a rat and decided to ask someone else. The can of worms was open and it seemed that the more people I asked the more weird answers I got.
“The trees are painted white to stop the ants climbing the tree trunks as it makes them visible to birds”
“The trees are painted every year to make them more pretty”
“The trees are painted to stop them being cut down and sold for wood on the black market”
“White paint contains an antiseptic that seeps into the trunk and protects the tree from infection”
and so on.
Elena goes with the explanation that the trees are more pretty and that it’s an old Romanian tradition she has grown up with all her life. As we drove through the Romanian countryside, she made sure to point out all the white trees and comment loudly about how much more beautiful white painted trees were than our plain English ones. I roundly disagreed and pointed out to her that this can’t possibly be a Romanian tradition as I have since seen white painted trees in Vietnam and Egypt.
The closest we ever got to finding out why trees were painted was in Egypt, where me and Stew actually saw a guy painting a tree trunk.
When we asked him what he was doing, it turned out that he didn’t speak a word of English, so the mystery remains.