OK, so it's not exactly earth-shattering news: trees are essential for human life. As important as trees are, most of us take them for granted. Sure, they offer a shady spot for a picnic and give lovers a place to carve their initials in a heart, but otherwise they're dismissed as part of the landscape.
But trees are more than just oversize firewood—in fact, they give us the oxygen we need to breathe and are part of a valuable ecosystem on Earth. Before you curse your neighborhood maple for bleeding leaves all over your lawn, a little respect, please! Without trees, life on Earth wouldn't be sustainable—and you'd out of luck when looking for a shady parking spot.
- Just one average-sized tree can provide enough oxygen for an entire family of four to breathe for an entire year. They work by absorbing expelled carbon dioxide and producing oxygen. Take a deep breath—cutting down trees actually reduces the world's air supply and Earth's the only planet in our solar system that has the resources to grow trees. You don't see trees on Mars, do you?
- Trees are for more than human enjoyment. Michael Bentley, Education Associate of the Virginia Museum of Natural History says, "Most folks do not realize that tree canopies form a complex subsystem of forest ecosystems of organisms—fungi, epiphytes, invertebrates, vertebrates, etc that enhance overall ecosystem function." In other words, trees are ecosystems in themselves, especially the tree canopy. They support an environment hosting insects, spiders, lichens/fungi, mosses, algae, etc. and it is in this environment in which birds and bats find their nourishment, not to mention snakes (many climb trees) and squirrels. Most people don't think of that base of the food chain that trees provide, especially in their canopies.
- Trees can cool off your air conditioning bill come summertime. In fact, just three well-placed trees around your house can slash your air conditioning bill around 50 percent, which makes forking over cash for bills easier to stomach. Trees can also help protect your home from the elements—although you might have to fish a few leaves out of the gutters every now and again.
- Trees can affect your mood. When workers view trees along the commute, they're more productive at the office—maybe it's time to skip the freeway and try a back road commute? What's more, trees can help speed healing time. Healthcare resource NHS Forest points out that hospital patients who have a view of trees from their room have speedier recoveries, require less medications and have a better experience than those who can't see trees. It's more of a reason to push for a room with a view!
- Native trees are more beneficial than non-native trees. "Now here's the clincher—recent work has demonstrated that native trees support a tremendously greater diversity of arthropods, etc., because the species co-evolved. So, [I] definitely recommend planting native species over ornamentals from elsewhere," says Bentley.
- You probably use more trees than you think. North Carolina State University estimates that the average person uses enough paper and paper products to make up a 100-foot tree with an 18-inch diameter in the space of a year. From computer paper to newspaper, paper plates, firewood and even toothpicks (about 5,000 products in all), you're using up your share of trees each day.
- Trees are often used as spiritual and religious symbols. Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment under the wisdom tree. Time for mediation, perhaps?
- Ugh, noisy neighbors—am I right? Plant a tree and you won't have to listen to your neighbor's very amateur garage band quite as often or quite as loud. Trees help to naturally dampen sound, so you get more privacy around your home and a better night's sleep when around noisy neighbors, barking dogs and street sounds.
- Trees provide phytoremediation. Um, what? Basically, trees cause the absorption of chemicals and other harmful pollutants that enter the soil. They do this by either storing the pollutants within their roots, or even transforming dangerous pollutants into less severe versions. Even if you can't pronounce "phytoremediation," you can respect that!
- Trees help prevent erosion by protecting roads and sidewalks from water run-off. It might not sound that important, but it helps reduce the amount of time you're inconvenienced by road work and construction.
So the next time you go to print off that hilarious office cartoon or are about to toss that newspaper in the garbage, take a second to think about where the paper products came from. If you really respect trees and their contribution, you'll email the cartoon and recycle your newspaper—or risk the evil eye from treehuggers everywhere.