“To exist as a nation, to prosper as a state, and to live as a people, we must have trees.” Theodore Roosevelt
Trees, tall and majestic, as a species, are profoundly connected to us. We value their wood for fire, warmth, cooking and creating tools, cooking implements, crafts. We use their leaves, barks, fruits, and roots for food and medicine. They provide shade in the summer, reducing cooling costs. They break the winds from the north providing protection from the cold. They offer habitat to diverse species.
My podcast guest this week, Dana Karcher, Program Manager for the ADF Alliance for Community Trees, says tree science is relatively new. I’ve been reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben from Germany. His research and others are beginning to show how holism principles apply to the forest, though many indigenous cultures knew/know this. Science is catching up.
Let’s look at the concept of holism: it is defined as: “the theory that the parts of any whole cannot exist and cannot be understood except in relation to the whole.”
Scientists are discovering that members of the forest are interconnected. What happens to one can affect the whole. If one part is weak, then through an intricate underground network, messages are sent, received with help on the way. Fungi connect the dots and seem to help by receiving chemical signals through their networks that are connected to root tips. Fungi seem to be mediators, too seeking to distribute information and resources equally. The well being of our forests depends on their community. Isolated trees can actually lose their biodiversity and disappear. Therefore we can no longer go in with our machines, look for the best trees, cut them down often injuring others anymore. All parts are connected. Irresponsible logging destroys ecosystems which can take several years to recover if that is even possible.
” ..a tree is not by itself a forest. Together they actually create an ecosystem that can moderate extremes in temperature and generate humidity.” ( The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben.) And its complexity is just beginning to be understood.
I saw trees near where I lived completely cut down for apartment development. A beautiful rolling hill was grazed of its trees, many of which were oaks. Oaks alone support over 500 species, versus a Bradford Pear which has now become invasive and supports little wildlife. Our insects need homes, and if we continue to take habitat away, then we see declines and even extinction up the food chain. What are the implications then of removing trees for development?
First, trees give us oxygen. “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.” U.S. Department of Agriculture
Second, they help retain rainwater. When removed from our landscapes we see an increase in stormwater. Stormwater collects all manner of garbage and pollutants which end up in our waterways. “The planting of trees means improved water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion. This allows more recharging of the groundwater supply. Wooded areas help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams.” USDA Forest Service
Third, trees improve our health and add economic value to a property. “Healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property’s value.” USDA Forest Service
Fourth, trees help keep carbon in the soil. With development like I mentioned above, acres of trees were removed and the soil dug up for housing development. This act alone sends carbon into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. “There are about 60– to 200-million spaces along our city streets where trees could be planted. This translates to the potential to absorb 33 million more tons of CO2 every year and saving $4 billion in energy costs. National Wildlife Federation
Trees are a part of our world and therefore a part of us. They create intricate ecosystems that I hope will be valued again.
Please plant a tree and if you cannot, support the wonderful work that the Arbor Day Foundation, ADF, offers around our world. If you live in communities with rules, find out which ones support habitat and diversity and if they don’t, get involved and change them. ADF’s Alliance for Community Trees helps individuals and communities replant.
What stories do you have about adding diversity to your landscapes? Have you been able to make a difference in your community? I would enjoy hearing your stories.