The Origin of Trees by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella

Palm trees belong to two states: California and Florida. But more to California than Florida – Florida is where oranges grow on trees that are the result of shoots sprouting out of the state’s belly button. Palm trees are from coughs in the soil. Rumbling in-your-chest coughs that leave the state with a hand print that looks like the pokey veins in my mom’s hands, except the veiny roots of palm trees twine in the dirt instead of some skin.

Palms wander like aliens in the American South – creeping interlopers hiding against shingled houses. Strangers in the swamp, growing and stretching frond wings like bats. I prefer them in the desert, where they cast shade and house the rats that my terrier would kill in groups to leave as gifts for my dad.

In Philadelphia, there are no palm trees. There are trees that die and resurrect, like prickly Christs. And trees that smell like sex during the spring. And an Osage orange tree on Ridge Ave with its strange fruit in the summer. And trees near Clark Park where urban foragers gather its berries, but I don’t know its name.

During a summertime trip to a New Jersey Shore house, Angela had brought paper bags filled with groceries. She baked cactus paddles and spread honey and goat cheese on top. I held the oar of the cactus against my tongue, the fibers of a used-to-be home in my mouth. Not quite a palm tree, but a foliage I was familiar with. My acid mouth turned the cactus into green paste, and the pulp slide down my throat like tears. I don’t know the name of any summertime trees that live on the East Coast.

Wintertime in Philadelphia the sky bleeds white and erases the landscape. The city is monochrome, and the naked trees share the richness of their silent language with one another. Philadelphia becomes a Xerox of a Xerox version of itself, the landscape barely viewable during hushing snow storms. Tree bones blot the quieting sky until only the edges of the city remain.

Outside of a house in West Philadelphia, a tree grew from only one wild seed bred by John Bartram. Later his son William would name the tree Franklinia in honor of his dad’s good friend: Dr. Ben Franklin. Perhaps the largest Franklinia in the world, the tree died during a snow storm the first year I moved to the city. I still look at its bleached remains from my apartment across the street, its open body a detailed record of its palm tree-less environment.

About the author:

Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is an editor at HOOT Review, a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, a cat fanatic a contributing writer at SSG music, and a candy enthusiast. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it, and she’s not wonderful at writing in the third person.