Tree Code

Artist Katie Holten has developed a tree code (basically, a font in trees), and New York City is using it to plant secret messages in parks.

Posted on February 5, 2020 at 6:10 AM • 20 Comments

Comments

MeFebruary 5, 2020 8:23 AM

I take issue with the Cryptography and Encryption tags.

Stegonography sure, but this is a "code" like ASCII is a code.

u38cgFebruary 5, 2020 9:28 AM

So this has been the traditional way the Gaelic alphabet has identified letters for the best part of two millennia, going back to the Ogham script.

ThunderbirdFebruary 5, 2020 11:33 AM

ASCII *is* a code. Perhaps you mean it isn't a cipher--in which case I agree and I imagine Bruce would too.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 5, 2020 11:43 AM

@ All,

Yes it's a simple "font substitution" that is the alphabet is different, but the rest is the same, almost...

Why the almost, well trees are living objects, susceptible to disease, lightining and other vaguries of nature.

When trees die they are "chopped down" and removed, and sometimes replaced with others.

Which brings up the question of what happens when you remove letters from words?

There are word games and rude jokes based upon such letter removals. Likewise there are other word games and jokes based on letter substitution and rearrangements.

Life is such, that at some point by accident or design, some such will happen...

MGDFebruary 5, 2020 12:13 PM

This 'Tree Alphabet' remind me of Ogham ...
Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used primarily to write the early Irish language (in the "orthodox" inscriptions, 4th to 6th centuries AD), and later the Old Irish language (scholastic ogham, 6th to 9th centuries).
BTW, Ogham is a 5X5 code ... 5 groups (Aicmes) of 5 letters each
According to the High Medieval Bríatharogam, names of various trees can be ascribed to individual letters in the Ogham alphabet.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogham

Ogham Letter Names ...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogham#Letter_names

David RudlingFebruary 5, 2020 12:24 PM

@Billikis
With your grasp of vowel-less language you should study Egyptian of the Pharaonic period. Although there are two written "near vowels" there are no written vowels - and the hieroglyphs are a little more diverse than just trees.

MGDFebruary 5, 2020 1:14 PM

Another use of trees ... as 'language' ...
Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America that Native Americans intentionally shaped with distinctive characteristics that convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease. A massive network of constructed pre-Columbian roads and trails has been well documented across the Americas, and in many places remnants can still be found of trails used by hunters and gatherers. One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_trees

1&1~=UmmFebruary 5, 2020 3:31 PM

@David Rudling:

"With your grasp of vowel-less language"

It would appear that @Billikis has been counted out.

CuriousFebruary 5, 2020 3:52 PM

I guess if one did this with smaller plants, one could plant the same stuff more often. :)
Or, you could decorate a room in a particular way perhaps.

This thread reminded me of a fantasy novel, where party A spied on party B, with hidden recording gear hidden under the trees and the special trees picked up vibrations and fed the signals down to the roots or something.

BillikinFebruary 5, 2020 11:24 PM

Gee, considering the cryptography tag, I am surprised that my comment was eliminated. Deleting vowels is an easy way to reduce the redundancy of English as a form of preprocessing before encypherment.

Wesley ParishFebruary 6, 2020 1:29 AM

@Billikin

It would eliminate one of the key clues used by pen-and-paper cryptologists - the vowel frequency count. TY Codes and Ciphers (Frank Higenbottam; 1973) gave a general frequency count of letters of various languages. Very useful knowing.

TatütataFebruary 6, 2020 2:04 AM

The substitution code might be trivial, and hark back to the 16th century, but one could code information in the particular shape of the limbs.

Each individual "letter" can be generally be described by some fractal math specific to the type of tree, but the specific bifurcations or the length of the stemps scan differ from instance to instance within the allowed domain of variation.

David Kahn described in "The Codebreakers" a scheme where the number and orientation of individual blade's of grass in a spy's letter conveyed a message.

Nevertheless, a "forest" of widely alternating varieties, laid out in lines with spacing and punctuation, is bound to attract suspicion. And there will be all those missing letters due to the wretched Dutch elm disease. On the plus side, this is one code you can edit with a chainsaw and a backhoe.

ATNFebruary 6, 2020 3:52 AM

@me (otrher):
> This is not only a font, this is a simple substitution cipher! isn't it?

Unless you start grafting the trees...

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