17 Important Facts About Trees That Everyone Should Know
What do you see when you look at a tree?
Standing inconspicuously in silence, at a glance, we are missing so much of all the action trees are involved in.
Trees are a magical convergence of symbiotic networks where they serve a multitude of functions.
Here are 17 important facts to know about trees (+ some myths and bonuses afterwards):
Trees seed rain clouds.
Trees communicate with neighboring plants and trees.
Trees distribute and share nutrients with other trees, plants, and fungi.
Trees provide habitat to animals and insects.
Trees build healthy soil horizons.
Trees filter water.
Trees provide food.
Trees provide fuel.
Trees provide shelter.
Trees provide fiber.
Trees provide resin.
Trees provide biomass.
Trees provide timber.
Trees provide medicine.
Trees filter air.
Trees regulate temperature and microclimates.
- Trees regulate hydrological cycles.
(image below: land use change affects biodiversity (ecosystem habitats)
Can trees solve the climate crisis?
No, not by themselves. Appropriate reforestation and protection of primary forests will certainly help drawdown carbon from the atmosphere; however, trees are one piece of the giant carbon pie.
Carbon emissions from energy, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing are also huge players in the carbon emissions pie chart:
"Appropriate" reforestation? How can planting trees be "inappropriate"?
Non-native species are sometimes "invasive" by way of dominating a bioregion and producing ecological interactions that are less favorable to the native biodiversity of that area. For example, eucalyptus trees were introduced to California for timber harvesting purposes due to their fast-growing nature. Unfortunately, eucalyptus took over waterways quickly in many places, and the leaf litter that it produces in voluminous quantities rapidly is allelopathic—they prevent other plants from growing. This destroys the habitats of local birds, animals, and insects as their sources for food and shelter are diminished. When reforesting areas, it must be done in such a way that it supports local biodiversity.
Another way reforestation is done inappropriately is in monoculture, homo-generational reforestation. You see this all the time in timber harvesting (logging) districts. Dozens to hundreds of acres of forests will be clear cut, and then replanted with a single tree species, all of which are saplings of the same age. Issues, in these circumstances, are many.
Habitat for animals, birds, and insects is diminished and often almost entirely eradicated. Unfortunately, not all birds, animals and insects can sustain with only one plant specie. Even if we, humans, call it a "forest," the reality is we have replaced a forest of diverse biology with a tree desert farm. I call these "ghost forests."
Here are some of the biggest reforestation initiatives taking place around the world that are worth knowing about:
- Bonn Challenge
- Initiative 20x20
And here is an online archive of many different tree projects: http://tree-nation.com/
Another common misconception is that all orchards are beneficial to the environment.—*GASP*
How could groves of trees be bad for the environment? Again, it is a matter of having the right species in the right place. In California, we are growing oranges, a subtropical/tropical tree species, in a state that is suffering from a shortage of water. Subtropical/tropical species require A LOT of water, and so do pistachios and almonds (also tree crops being grown in California).
Over the past several decades, the aquifers under the Central Valley of California have been sucked dry to irrigate bio-regionally inappropriate plants species and extractive, monoculture, and topsoil-destroying agriculture fields. The substantial removal of water from aquifers has caused land subsidence, and now water is being extracted from hundreds of miles away from other ecosystems. These ecosystems are having their water removed and becoming desertified in the process.
Trees are planted alongside or intermixed with crops.
(image below: bananas, coffee and macadamia growing together at Doi Tung's Development Project, Thailand)