I see trees of green…
For most of us, a tree is a not an unusual sight. We are used to seeing them in a variety of locations – a back yard, a park, lining a street, perhaps even inside an office block or shopping mall. Outside of the city we can see even more trees in orchards, on farmsteads, in forests. We all enjoy seeing the different species of trees, some ever green, others changing with the seasons. They look beautiful, but what are they for?
What are trees for? What do they do?
I asked a few different people and made some observations to find out what ordinary people think about trees, about their purpose and value in everyday life. This was not an empirical study. It was a random sample of friends and family members, adults and children. There are no prizes for guessing who said what but answers can be found at the bottom of the page:
- Trees are for shade on a hot sunny day, and shelter from rain – but not in a thunderstorm.
- Trees are for climbing
- Trees are for growing fruit like apples
- Trees make amazing dens and shelters
- Trees are for chopping down for pencils, paper and firewood.
- Trees help to make the air cleaner, to turn CO2 into oxygen.
- Trees are for hanging swings on.
- Forests and parks with trees are places we can walk and feel good.
- Trees are remind us of our place in the world. They were here before us and will be here after us
- Trees are homes for birds and animals like squirrels.
- Trees are pretty, especially when decorated with ornaments at Christmas, and parties.
- Trees are useful for answering a call of nature/bathroom visit in the absence of other facilities.
Trees are all this and more. As lovely as they are to look at ,and to appreciate for their recreational value, trees are vital to our planet, to our survival. Consider these points from The Tree People.
Trees combat the climate change
Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by many factors is a building up in our atmosphere and contributing to climate change. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. In one year, an acre of mature trees absorbs the amount of CO2 produced when you drive your car 26,000 miles.
Trees clean the air
Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.
Trees provide oxygen
In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.
Trees cool the streets and the city
Average temperatures in Los Angeles have risen 6°F in the last 50 years as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased.
Trees cool the city by up to 10°F, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves.
Trees conserve energy
Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.
Trees save water
Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. Most newly planted trees need only fifteen gallons of water a week. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.
Trees help prevent water pollution
Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents storm water from carrying pollutants to the ocean. When mulched, trees act like a sponge that filters this water naturally and uses it to recharge groundwater supplies.
Trees help prevent soil erosion
On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place.
Trees shield children from ultra-violet rays
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Trees reduce UV-B exposure by about 50 percent, thus providing protection to children on school campuses and playgrounds – where children spend hours outdoors.
Trees provide food
An apple tree can yield up to 15-20 bushels of fruit per year and can be planted on the tiniest urban lot. Aside from fruit for humans, trees provide food for birds and wildlife.
Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with less complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.
Trees reduce violence
Neighborhoods and homes that are barren have shown to have a greater incidence of violence in and out of the home than their greener counterparts. Trees and landscaping help to reduce the level of fear.
Trees mark the seasons
Is it winter, spring, summer or fall? Look at the trees.
Trees create economic opportunities
Fruit harvested from community orchards can be sold, thus providing income. Small business opportunities in green waste management and landscaping arise when cities value mulching and its water-saving qualities. Vocational training for youth interested in green jobs is also a great way to develop economic opportunities from trees.
Trees are teachers and playmates
Whether as houses for children or creative and spiritual inspiration for adults, trees have provided the space for human retreat throughout the ages.
Trees bring diverse groups of people together
Tree plantings provide an opportunity for community involvement and empowerment that improves the quality of life in our neighborhoods. All cultures, ages, and genders have an important role to play at a tree planting or tree care event.
Trees add unity
Trees as landmarks can give a neighborhood a new identity and encourage civic pride.
Trees provide a canopy and habitat for wildlife
Sycamore and oak are among the many urban species that provide excellent urban homes for birds, bees, possums and squirrels.
Trees mask ‘ugly’
Trees can mask concrete walls or parking lots, and unsightly views. They muffle sound from nearby streets and freeways, and create an eye-soothing canopy of green. Trees absorb dust and wind and reduce glare.
Trees provide wood
In suburban and rural areas, trees can be selectively harvested for fuel and craft wood.
Trees increase property values
The beauty of a well-planted property and its surrounding street and neighborhood can raise property values by as much as 15 percent.
Trees increase business traffic
Studies show that the more trees and landscaping a business district has, the more business will flow in. A tree-lined street will also slow traffic – enough to allow the drivers to look at the store fronts instead of whizzing by.
I think it’s fair to conclude that we need trees. They need protecting as they don’t just grow over
night. Someone once asked a gardener, “When is the best time to plant a tree?” The answer was, “20 years ago.” Of course many trees take longer to grow to full maturity – even hundreds of years!
What can we do to preserve trees?
Trees are much more than just a source of paper for wood and paper for toilet tissue, and glossy magazines. We can look after our own trees, and impress on local decision makers the importance of local trees -maybe even chain ourselves to a tree in need of protection when the need arises! However, the whole planet needs trees, not just our neighborhoods. They need to be preserved rather than cut down to make way for housing or agriculture.
Whilst some are supporting the planting and conservation of trees by investing in carbon offsetting programmers and donating to worthy projects overseas, one man went that step further. A family member of a friend of mine, Charlie Hamilton James bought a 100-acre rainforest in Peru protect it for illegal logging, and filmed “I bought a rainforest” for the BBC. One review stated “The biodiversity, beautifully photographed, was gobsmacking and made an eloquent case for conservation, but the micro-economic imperative was in its way equally persuasive. Illegal logging doesn’t merely endanger rare flora and fauna, but also provides a much-needed income stream for impoverished locals.”
Everyone needs educating on the value of trees and support in finding alternatives to depleting the worlds trees whilst still being able to make a living. There are no easy solutions but at least we can do our bit to do all that we can to value and take care of trees, and ultimately our oxygen, such as
- Use electronic methods to communicate where possible, rather than paper.
- Use alternatives to paper for hygiene such as cloth towels, diapers, napkins.
- Reduce our dependence on new paper, opt for recycled paper.
- Borrow or exchange books, or buy them electronically.
- Reduce the number of items we buy in packaging.
- Buy wood from sustainable sources.
- Donate wood items, especially furniture, to thrift stores and goodwill causes.
- Up cycle wooden furniture.
- Buy second hand.
- Participate in carbon offsetting our daily activities by supporting carbon offsetting programs that plant trees.
- Post on social media articles about the value of preserving trees.
- Include them in our landscaping, and keep the trees we have already.
- Plant more trees, as often as possible.
I was introduced to the value of trees a few years ago. My husband loves trees. In the early days of our relationship he taught me how to hug trees, which I admit I don’t do very often even though it actually does feel good. A walk through a park or forest of trees, and can ddiffuse stress and promote wellbeing. We have a relative, who will remain anonymous for the purpose of this discussion, who invariably projects stress and negativity on to the rest of the family. Let’s just say that whenever we get together with her we all feel an increase of stress and contention, and the visit rarely ends well. We noticed the stress is reduced when we are outside in close proximity to trees in a natural environment. We now make sure that whenever we visit with her we spend a large proportion of the time surrounded by trees. She must have the impression that we are even more outdoorsy type people than we actually are! Hopefully no trees are harmed by absorbing the increased stress. For this and for every other reason, I am grateful to trees and hope we can all value them and protect them.
Trees remind us of our place in the world. They are vital to the environment. They were here before us and will hopefully still be here after long us! Let’s all make sure we spend some time in out lives ‘Speaking for the trees’.
Answers to What are trees for? 1. Adult aged mid 30’s – a bit of a worrier. 2. Active son, aged 10 3. My sister, aged 48 4. Son’s friend aged 11 5. My youngest bonfire loving son, aged 6. 6. Teenager, aged 15 plus almost every child I asked, and hardly any adults! 7. Me, aged 51 8. Auntie aged 71 years. 9. I made that up, disappointingly no one said it. 10. Son’s friend, aged 11. Adult friend aged 40 . 12. 2/3 of my sons and my black labrador dog, and when desperate, me.
When I conducted my survey I loved that all of the children knew that we need trees to absorb CO2 and give us clean oxygen. That shows the value of good environmental science education.