Trees aren’t just the home of Chipper and many of his animal friends, and they don’t just provide shade or a fun climb. Trees are much more important than we realize and their necessity is often underestimated. Filtering pollution from the air and water and making the oxygen we need to breath are only two of the many benefits of trees. Their daily work is truly a miracle! One study by researchers at Columbia University in 2008 found that more trees in urban neighborhoods correlate with a lower incidence of asthma.
In a bit of natural alchemy called photosynthesis, for example, trees turn one of the seemingly most insubstantial things of all — sunlight — into food for insects, wildlife and people, and use it to create shade, beauty and wood for fuel, furniture and homes. It may not be obvious, but hey are essential to all life on this planet we call home!
“We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves such as the birds, animals, fish and trees.” – Chief Edward Moody
Decades ago, Katsuhiko Matsunaga, a marine chemist at Hokkaido University in Japan, discovered that when tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. In a campaign called Forests Are Lovers of the Sea, fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to bring back fish and oyster stocks. And they have returned!
Other researchers in Japan have long studied what they call “forest bathing.” A walk in the woods, they say, reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body and increases natural killer cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and viruses. Studies in inner cities show that anxiety, depression and even crime are lower in a landscaped environment!
Trees also release vast clouds of beneficial chemicals. On a large scale, some of these aerosols appear to help regulate the climate; others are antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral. We need to learn much more about the role these chemicals play in nature. One of these substances, taxane, from the Pacific yew tree, has become a powerful treatment for breast and other cancers. Aspirin’s active ingredient comes from willows!
Trees also absorb much of the heat created by greenhouse gasses and asphalt in urban areas, yet thousands of them are cut down every day and they are few and in between in our cities. This Earth Day, please do yourself and the planet a favor by planting a tree. Whether in your backyard or somewhere else in your community, every tree counts!