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Why Should We Be Grateful for Trees?

Keeping trees in place is as important as planting new ones. Mature trees do much more work than young saplings can, and they are powerhouses of ecosystem services. While planting new trees is an exciting activity, there are many reasons to save healthy, established trees from being cut down. In this article, we’ll go over the nine main benefits of saving trees for our neighborhoods and our health.

Nine Reasons Trees Are Important

  1. Providing Shade

A mature tree is one that has achieved its full height and crown size according to its species. The bigger a tree gets, the more shade it casts, which is one of the most important ecosystem services a tree provides. By blocking sunlight, trees reduce the temperatures below them, and many trees together have an important effect on keeping whole areas cool during the warmest months of the year. This can have impressive effects on the need for home cooling!

  1. Absorbing Water

A tree’s root system is like a network of straws in the ground, and the bigger the tree, the more water it can absorb! Not only do the trees themselves take in the water, the soil that their roots hold in place is like a sponge and will also absorb and hold onto moisture that might otherwise flood an area or rinse away the valuable topsoil at the surface level. While this is good for both plants and the ground, it can also prevent water damage to buildings and overflow of sewer systems.

  1. Increasing Air Moisture Levels

Trees and other plants play an essential role in the Earth’s water cycle. After absorbing moisture from the ground through their roots, trees transpire, or release water vapor into the air, through pores on their leaves called stomata. This actually increases the amount of rainfall in large, forested areas since the water vapor that the trees release eventually accumulates in the atmosphere as clouds.

Transpired water vapor also increases an area’s humidity, which has a cooling effect when the moisture absorbs extra heat in the air. Once temperatures get warm enough, however, that energized water vapor creates the hot and sticky feeling we experience during summer in areas with abundant greenery. It might get uncomfortable for us, but it means the plants are doing their jobs!

  1. Improving Air Quality

The leaves of trees improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and other particles in the air, which the trees use to build their own trunks, branches, and leaves. When they absorb carbon dioxide, they keep the carbon and release the oxygen—a process that purifies the air that we breathe. The more leaves and the bigger trunk a tree has, the more carbon it absorbs. When the leaves drop in fall, some of that carbon gets stored in the ground as soil, and new leaves in the spring then restart the process.

  1. Reducing Noise Pollution

A big bushy tree doesn’t only absorb light and carbon but noise as well! Its thick trunk and layers of leaves block and dampen noise from traffic, construction, and other loud activities that would otherwise echo between buildings and through open space. Residents and wildlife alike appreciate a calmer, quieter neighborhood.

  1. Stabilizing and Preserving Soil

The roots of trees hold up their large trunks and canopies above ground, while the winding and twisting roots underground create a structure that holds soil firmly in place. Extensive root systems prevent erosion of soil from wind and rain, and what’s more, the leaves that fall from trees each year add to the amount and quality of the soil in the ground around them.

  1. Protecting Wildlife Habitats

Big, established trees with tall trunks and lots of branches and leaves provide habitat for wildlife of all kinds! Caterpillars and other insects eat the nutritious green leaves, while mammals feed on the seeds and nuts that mature trees produce–and some other critters feed on the caterpillars that feed on the tree’s leaves and so on.  A single large oak tree can support an extensive network of life around it! They also provide living spaces for small animals and birds, where they’re protected from the hot sun and predators. Pollinators like birds and insects who feed on the tree’s foliage also help those trees and other plants produce flowers, while birds and mammals that eat the fruits of a tree will spread their seeds to other locations, where those seeds will sprout and try to grow.

  1. Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change

All of the many ecosystem services that trees provide, like temperature reduction, water management, air filtration, soil stability, and wildlife habitat, contribute to managing the climate. Since a climate is a result of the interaction between the physical environment and the weather, a robust canopy contributes to maintaining a given location in a healthy and ecologically sound condition, which in turn keeps it comfortable and safe to live in. Planting trees in the city is an important component to curb climate change and intercept carbon where it is produced, but preserving forests around a city is absolutely essential for any city’s goals to reduce its carbon output.  Forestland around a city scrubs carbon produced by a metropolitan area, similar to how the kidneys and liver filter out toxins in the body.

  1. Providing Mental Health Benefits

Trees of many shapes, sizes, and colors provide beautiful scenery in addition to valuable property enhancements. Along with the many ecosystem services that trees perform, they also support mental health! Spending time in nature can reduce stress levels in individuals, and green spaces provide places to make lasting memories with friends and family. Trees and other plants in well-maintained landscapes improve overall well-being by creating comfortable and healthy living environments.

The Importance of Mature Trees

While it’s important to plant new trees as necessary, it’s just as important to let them grow into mature trees that can provide real long-term benefits to your property and to the wider area. Large, mature trees require more attention than young trees in terms of maintenance, so it’s important to work with certified arborists to have a maintenance plan and to keep large trees pruned and healthy. Trained professionals will be able to inspect trees for disease, remove dead branches in a healthy way (a good arborist will never “top” trees by indiscriminately removing full limbs), and keep an eye out for any changes as the tree grows year over year.

In between arborist checkups, it’s important for homeowners to keep trees well-watered, especially in times of drought, and to avoid compacting the soil during routine lawn care activities. Be sure to avoid getting too close with mowers and weed trimmers as well, and if you’re having construction done, it can make a huge difference to the health of the tree by putting up fencing to keep machinery at a distance from the trees. Harm to or neglect of a tree doesn’t only pose a threat to the health of the tree itself; it can result in dangerous conditions like weak branches or trunks that might result in damage during a storm.

To learn more about our neighborhood canopy and how you can actively support saving trees, subscribe to The Nashville Tree Conservation Corps’ email newsletter or volunteer with us! Before we can save a tree, it must be planted and cared for, so consider shopping our tree sale if your property could benefit from any of the ecosystem services we discussed above. We can’t encourage you enough: plant new trees and save the trees that are already planted!