Benefits of Trees

Oh wow.  I can actually feel the rolling of eyes.  Who has NOT been inundated with a list of the benefits of trees?  I would like to expound a bit on some of those lists so, hopefully, you will hang in there with me.  Warning:  this is a bit of a rant.

Trees do give us many benefits such as those so often enumerated:  shade, wind breaks, sound attenuation, storm water mitigation, prevention of soil erosion, and of course, the all-important release of oxygen into the atmosphere.  As I say in my blog, Understanding Photosynthesis (which I STILL need to rename to Understanding the Importance of Photosynthesis), “we need trees, but they do NOT need us”.  

As a general rule, the bigger the tree the greater the ecosystem benefits.
Species pictured: Populus deltoides

The problem I have with some of the lists is it appears in trying to maximize the impact, the author(s) overstate some, understate others or simply reword a benefit to make it sound like an additional one.  In my humble opinion, this is unnecessary because the massive importance of trees is self-evident:  we wouldn’t be able to exist without them.

However, consider “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.”  That gorgeous, flowering tree standing majestically in your yard may be a pollinator magnet, produce substantial shade with those lovely, large leaves and attractive seedpods adding aesthetic appeal in the summer.  But someone allergic to bees may not be so thrilled with the species.  If a person’s preference is for a manicured lawn, then fighting dense shade isn’t going to be popular, and when it comes to raking up those “lovely, large leaves and attractive seedpods”, which send up numerous seedlings, well, this is the “The Love/Hate Relationship with Trees”.

Tilia Americana alle

Then there is the first time someone hears trees emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can include some products that may contribute to “pollution” (depending on your point of view) or they emit (hold on now) Carbon dioxide (CO2) (Yes, that’s the one getting all the press lately).   They are horrified.   How dare them!  (Meaning the trees.)  I read an article in which you could actually hear the author’s outrage:   trees were supposed to be cleaning our air not adding to the potential pollution of it with the added implication trees should be taking care of us and cleaning up our mess (presumably so we don’t have to).    I’m pretty sure the trees didn’t read the fine print in the contract as drafted.

The reality here is trees take care of themselves.  They have a wealth of products they synthesize for function and survival.  Many of these products are beneficial to us, medically, socially, aesthetically, economically, and/or environmentally.  But like many natural products, they can also have a flip side which is either not specifically beneficial to us or may be harmful in dosage.  

Trees are unable to control how we utilize their benefits, such as production methods we employ to harvest the raw material, refine it, sell it, ship it, use it and dispose of it.   The responsible application and/or utilization of the amazing array of benefits trees do give us falls squarely on our shoulders.

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