One sunny Saturday morning, two men were seated on a bench facing the London plane tree in Juniper Valley Park. In front of each of them, seated on the ground, were their respective dogs: a golden retriever, whose luxurious honey-colored coat was further gilded by the bright sunshine, the other a small and scruffy looking dog of uncertain ancestry, what Mark Twain would have called “a composite dog.”
The men were deep in discussion about the previous evening’s baseball game, but the dogs were talking about other things.
“You are so lucky!” the composite dog had said to the retriever.
“Why do you say that, my friend?”
“Because you know where you stand on your family tree. You have a pedigree. When my humans take me out for a walk, there will always be someone who stops and pointing at me says something like, ‘What is that??’ And my man or woman will reply by saying: ‘We don’t know exactly, but we think he’s part Schnauzer and part Poodle. We call him a ‘shnoodle’, but we also think there might be other breeds lurking in his background.’ It is so humiliating!”
The retriever looked with sympathy at the distraught shnoodle, but did not know what to say.
The London plane, however, had been eavesdropping on the two and now felt obliged to speak. “E-hem! Excuse me for budding in, but listen to me, Mr. Shnoodle, you should not feel as you do about your mixed ancestry. In fact, it is probably a very good thing!”
“Indeed! Take me, for example. When most tree-loving people see me, they say, ‘Oh, look, there’s a nice sycamore tree over there. Let’s go and sit in the shade.’ But I AM NOT A SYCAMORE!!!”
Here the two dogs gave a start, for they had not expected the tree to shout so. The retriever thought he had better say something.
“I am not. That would be a Platanus occidentalis, someone with whom I am forever being confused.
The shnoodle was confused already. And he was suddenly very grateful that his human family called him by the silly name of ‘Shooshoo’.
Who would want to live with such a long and unwieldy name as that of that poor tree?
The London plane continued: “I am what is called a 'hybrid', meaning a cross between two different kinds of tree. It all began in the sixteenth century …” There was no stopping the speaker now, the dogs realized, so they lay down to get comfortable and just listen, convinced that this was going to be a long story.
“… Yes, back then some of my ancestors were indeed American sycamores. But then they met the lovely oriental planetrees – Platanus orientalis by name. Where they met I can’t exactly tell you, but the marriages between the two groups firmly took root, for there they were, their offshoots — trees just like me – in London in 1663. The City went crazy for them, gave us our popular name, in fact! Even today, 60% of London’s street trees are just what I am: a London planetree! … a Platanus x acerifolia, to give my Latin name.
“And the ‘x’ that is your middle initial stands for the fact that you are a cross between two types of trees?” asked the perceptive retriever?
“Exactly!” replied the tree. “But here’s the really interesting thing. Some of my seventeenth century ancestors are still there in London over two centuries later. I expect to live as long!”
“You don’t say!” exclaimed Shoo-shoo, who was finally getting the point of the story.
“I do!” insisted the London plane. “So, you see, an influx of different sorts of genes can be very beneficial to a population. It often makes the individuals within it stronger, healthier, more robust and longer-lived. Remember: never be ashamed of being a shnoodle! You are most likely better off for being a hybrid. There, I’ve had my say.”
The London plane then became silent, resuming his full-time job of gracing Juniper Valley Park with his great beauty and providing abundant shade to its visitors. The two men, having exhausted their analysis of the previous night’s ballgame, got up to leave. The two pets, taking their cue, also rose, gave each other a fond farewell sniff before accompanying their humans home. “You never know what you’re going to learn in this park!” said the retriever at their parting.
“True!” said Shoo-shoo. “And I feel so much better about myself now! I’m actually proud to be a shnoodle!”