Shady Tree Comedians Emily Heller and Emmy Blotnick meet very special guest host Oak-phira Eisen-birch, who tests them about their tree knowledge. If you like a-corny puns, you're in fir a tree-t!

Shady Tree

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JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and high-concept trivia - emphasis on high. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.


Thanks, Jonathan. We're playing games with comics Emmy Blotnick and Emily Heller. Are you two ready for your next challenge?


EMILY HELLER: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

BLOTNICK: Born ready.

COULTON: OK, well, this is a multiple-choice quiz all about trees. And we have a very special guest here to ask the questions. She's a real-life trash-talking tree who isn't afraid of throwing a little shade, and she insisted that I read that punny introduction. Please welcome Oak-phira Eisen-birch.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Hello, everyone.


COULTON: It's great to have you here, Oak-phira.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Thank you for tapping me. I've been hoping to branch out into broadcasting.

COULTON: Yeah. See. She's a very - she loves puns is the thing. So Emily, this first question is for you.

HELLER: Oak-phira's a little quiet - just putting that out there.

COULTON: Oak-phira, can you get one of your saplings to help you with your computer, maybe?


EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Let me just see. The root of the problem is...

COULTON: Oh, boy.


EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) OK, here's your question. Humans think trees are quiet, but I'm telling you there's some loudmouth birches out there. We actually have some systems of communication. Some trees can send airborne chemical signals that warn other trees to prepare for what?

COULTON: Emily, is it, A, a deadly fungus; B, a kid who's about to take advantage of them in a "Giving Tree" situation; or C, an imminent insect attack?

HELLER: Well, there's no preparing for the selfishness of children, so I know it's not that.

COULTON: Amen, sister.


HELLER: I am going to say C, an insect attack.

COULTON: Yeah. You are absolutely correct. That's right.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) We talk about other trees behind their bark.


EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) I could do this forever.


COULTON: OK, Emmy. This one is for you.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Emmy, if you think melodramatic weeping willows are emotionally toxic, you should definitely steer clear of the manchineel tree. Do you know why?

COULTON: Is it because manchineel trees, A, have been known to spontaneously combust; B, have poisonous fruit and sap that causes burns and temporary blindness; or C, are home to Keebler Elves, who are notorious jerks?

BLOTNICK: Ooh, boy. I think I'm going to go B on this one.

COULTON: Yeah. You are absolutely correct.

BLOTNICK: All right.

COULTON: Guinness Book calls manchineel tree the deadliest tree. Its name is derived from a Spanish phrase meaning little apple of death, which - that tells the story right there.

BLOTNICK: Adorable.


COULTON: All right. Here's another one, and it is for you, Emily.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Some trees think they're so unique, but I'm not impressed. In the 1990s, a guy named Dave Williams embarked - ha...


EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) ...On a mission to catalog a certain type of tree across the United States. What made these trees so special?

COULTON: So is it, A, they were a variety of dogwood that didn't change color in the fall; B, they were grown from seeds that had been to the moon; or C, they were planted by Johnny Appleseed?

HELLER: I want all of them to be true. I mean, the first one's kind of boring, but the other two are very exciting. I'm going to say that they've been to the moon.

COULTON: Yeah. They were grown from seeds that had been to the moon. That's right.


COULTON: They're known as moon trees. And NASA sent these seeds into space in 1971 as a partnership that they had with the Forest Service. And after returning from the mission, the saplings were planted across the United States, largely forgotten until the '90s, when a planetary scientist named Dave Williams began tracking them down.

BLOTNICK: That's pretty wild. They should call them Seed-lon (ph) - no, cut this.


BLOTNICK: I was going to say Seed-lon Musks. Please cut it.

COULTON: Oh, that's - that is exactly the kind of humor that Oak-phira Eisen-birch really loves.

BLOTNICK: I was really trying to get in the game.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) I love it.

BLOTNICK: But I regret it.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Seed-lon. (Unintelligible).

HELLER: Could you leaf that out of the broadcast?



COULTON: OK, Emmy. This is the last clue of the game.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) My ex-boyfriend is a real aspen. His name is Pando. He lives in Utah. And he is a lot to deal with. Why?

COULTON: Is it because Pando is, A, the tallest, widest tree in the world; B, an entire forest of trees, all stemming from a single root system; or C, always forgetting his wallet when he takes you to dinner?

BLOTNICK: Oh, gosh. Well, it better not be C.

COULTON: The worst.

BLOTNICK: I'm going to say - I feel like the big, big trees are in, like, the Pacific Northwesty (ph) - let's go B. I think it's a wild root system.

COULTON: Yeah, you are correct. It's the world's largest organism by mass. It's a forest made up of 47,000 genetically identical aspen trees that all share the same root system. It's pretty wild.


EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) I really appreciate you guys, you know, knowing so much about trees. It made my day, you know?


EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Just an organism over here trying to make their way in the trivia world, so thanks.

HELLER: Listen; I try to be an ally, so...


COULTON: Yeah. And we very much appreciate you taking time out of your, no doubt, very busy schedule...

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Very busy.

COULTON: ...Standing around...

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Very busy.

COULTON: ...To join us on this show.

EISENBERG: (As Oak-phira Eisen-birch) Yeah, OK. Well, love you but leaf you. Bye.


EISENBERG: I'm back. I'm back.

COULTON: Ophira, you missed a...

EISENBERG: What happened?

COULTON: Well, there was a tree here.

EISENBERG: Oh, that tree that's been trying to take my job.

COULTON: Oak-phira Eisen-birch, yeah.

EISENBERG: Always knocking at my door.


BLOTNICK: You could say she's pining for you.


EISENBERG: (Laughter) Thank you. Yes.

COULTON: You know what, though? She's a real sap.

EISENBERG: I love you guys. I love you guys.


EISENBERG: Thank you so much for being here, comedians Emmy Blotnick and Emily Heller.

HELLER: Thanks for having us.

BLOTNICK: What a treat.


BLOTNICK: A tree-t (ph).

COULTON: A tree-t.

HELLER: A tree-t.

EISENBERG: A tree-t.


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