The importance of trees can hardly be overstated: without trees, there would be no life on earth. Performing many vital functions passively in the background, trees do so much more than provide the oxygen humans and other animals need to breathe. In existence for at least 370 million years, trees are so diverse that there is no universally accepted definition of what a tree is, even among botanists. There are an estimated 100,000 species of tree in the world, some of which can live for thousands of years. The tallest tree in recorded history has reached a height of 379 feet while the oldest living tree is 5,064 years old.
Humanity’s relationship with the tree is long and storied. It has been, and continues to be, a symbol of life, fertility, knowledge, wisdom, and renewal for countless cultures and religions that span the globe.
Our affinity for trees dates back 6 million years ago, when humans first arrived on the scene. Providing us with oxygen, food, and shelter, trees may have also directly shaped us from an evolutionary standpoint; early humans lived in trees, and for this reason, we developed larger brains and more agile bodies.
Indeed, our intimate bond with the tree runs the physical and spiritual gamut – but it certainly doesn’t end there. As the old proverb goes: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. Read on for plenty of good reasons to plant a tree today – for your health, for the planet, and for your pocketbook.
It’s no secret that we need trees and other vegetation to produce oxygen and sustain life on this planet. A single tree, on average, generates 260 pounds of oxygen per year. Depending on the species of tree, and its age and health, a mature tree can emit enough oxygen to wholly support two people.
Carbon Dioxide Absorption
Another well-known fact that is certainly worth mentioning is that trees help mitigate the greenhouse effect and climate change by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. One tree can take in about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide annually; by the time it is 40 years old, it will have absorbed one tonne of CO2 – the emissions equivalent of driving 2,500 miles in a vehicle. And, according to a recent report, planting trees is among the most promising and least complex “technologies” we have at our disposal to offset carbon emissions.
In addition to oxygen production and carbon dioxide removal, trees are also giant air purifiers. They absorb pollutants like ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and intercept airborne particles through leaf stomata – pores found on the epidermis of foliage.
Trees receive a lot of credit, and rightfully so, for the part they play in air quality, but equally as important is their role in cleaning water. A tree’s branches and leaves slow rainfall, which allows fresh water to saturate the soil and helps to prevent the problem of storm water runoff. When water migrates across the landscape toward the watershed, it can pick up fertilizers, pesticides, oils, and other chemicals. A tree’s extensive root system below ground level filters out these pollutants, providing clean and clear water to streams, rivers, and lakes.
Where there are no trees, fertile lands turn into barren deserts. Just as trees help the earth absorb rainwater and replenish the watershed, they also help keep soil particles intact and prevent soil erosion. Over the past 150 years, half of the world’s topsoil has eroded – resulting in the loss of arable land, polluted waterways, and increased flooding. The roots of trees and plants impede erosion by anchoring the soil in place.
On average, floods cause $6 billion in damage and kill 140 people each year in the United States. Heavy rains, tropical storms, and ice jams are among the reasons flooding happens, but places where much of the ground is covered in concrete, pavement, and other non-absorptive surfaces are especially prone. Trees are veritable sponges, and one large tree can soak up 100 gallons of ground water per day.
A Habitat for Wildlife
Promoting terrestrial biodiversity, trees are a home to birds, squirrels and chipmunks, bats, raccoons, possums, butterflies, and even other plant species. No matter if the tree is living or dead, it offers shelter from the elements, a source of food, a place to nest, mate, raise young, and hunt. If you want to attract more wildlife to your backyard, check out this landscaping guide.
Trees that bear fruits or nuts will provide a steady supply of healthy and nutritious food for you and yours, for virtually free. Trees are much more low-maintenance and require far less space than vegetable gardens, and they are also super productive: a semi-dwarf apple tree will yield up to 500 apples in a season, and will continue to do so for 15 to 20 years.
Trees planted strategically around the home can reduce your heating and cooling needs by as much as 50%. Leafy, deciduous trees planted along the eastern, western, and southern walls will shade the building from the blazing heat of the sun in summer. Evergreens planted upwind from the home will help shield the house from frigid winter winds.
Boost Mental and Physical Health
Scientific studies have proven what we may have already known intuitively all along: that simply being in the presence of trees and nature has the power to heal. Green environments have been found to improve cognitive functioning and impulse control, speed up post-surgical recoveries, boost the immune system, and promote overall mental health. On the other hand, research shows that less access to nature results in higher rates of anxiety and depression, childhood obesity, cardiovascular disease, and higher instances of aggression and violent crime.
Increase Property Value
Home renovations will definitely add resale value, but an easier and less costly means to bump up the financial worth of your home is by planting trees. Although a tree may take five to seven years to mature, surveys have shown that landscapes dotted with mature trees boosts a home’s value by 15% or more.
Sun Protection Factor
In the United States, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer even though it is an entirely preventable disease. In 2011, 65,647 people were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, and sadly, 9,128 succumbed to this condition. The shade of trees can help filter the sun and reduce exposure to cancer-causing UV-B rays. A tree canopy that blocks 90% of sunlight offers the equivalent in ultraviolet protection as a sunscreen lotion with a SPF of 10.