Ten good things about trees

The Review - - OBITUARIES - Mike Weil­bacher Colum­nist Mike Weil­bacher di­rects the Schuylkill Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion in Up­per Roxbor­ough, tweets @ SCEEMike and can be reached at [email protected] schuylkill­cen­ter.org.

I’ve been think­ing about trees a lot these last few weeks, in part be­cause the leaves are turn­ing color and fall­ing to the ground, some­thing I look for­ward to ev­ery year. But also be­cause the Schuylkill Cen­ter just found ev­i­dence of emer­ald ash bor­ers on our mas­sive prop­erty, some­thing that is deeply trou­bling, as we are now faced with hun­dreds of dead and dy­ing trees.

And be­cause not far from the Schuylkill Cen­ter, a sis­ter non­profit cleared about an acre of trees to make room for a play­ground. Play­grounds, of course, are won­der­ful things, but los­ing a whole acre of trees is, for me, the di­rec­tor of an en­vi­ron­men­tal cen­ter, hard to stom­ach.

Be­cause we just lost an acre of ecosys­tem ser­vices, some­thing tough to come by in this en­vi­ron­men­tally chal­lenged world.

And be­cause, at day’s end, there are 10 great things trees do for us.

First, trees are nat­u­ral air con­di­tion­ers. Walk­ing into the Schuylkill Cen­ter for­est on a hot sum­mer’s day, the tem­per­a­ture im­me­di­ately drops. The ground is shaded by trees, and that um­brella of leaves pro­tects the soil from the sun’s scorch­ing rays. Trees are lit­er­ally cool.

Trees also fil­ter air pol­lu­tion, pulling bad stuff out of the leaves — ur­ban smog, say — and putting fresh air back into the world.

Those same leaves are air fresh­en­ers; when they pull pol­lu­tion out of the air, they re­place it with oxy­gen, one of the re­quire­ments for life. So leaves are oxy­gen fac­to­ries, re­new­ing our air. Two ma­ture trees, it is fre­quently said, pro­vide the oxy­gen needs of a fam­ily of four. That acre of trees that just came down? That’s the oxy­gen needed for about 18 peo­ple to breathe. They’ll have to get it else­where.

But while mak­ing oxy­gen, those leaves are also pulling in car­bon diox­ide, a green­house gas, the stuff that flows out of our tail pipes in car ex­haust and is su­per­charg­ing our at­mos­phere. Trees mit­i­gate cli­mate change: the more trees we have, the bet­ter our chances of sur­viv­ing and beat­ing cli­mate change. Philadel­phia hopes to plant a mil­lion trees in the next few years, and the Schuylkill Cen­ter has been do­ing its part in plant­ing new trees on our prop­erty. This will not only im­prove the city’s smog but help us ad­dress the scourge of cli­mate change.

Ev­ery­one in Roxbor­ough has been talk­ing about stormwa­ter in re­cent years, how the cli­mate’s larger storms flood our streets with too much rain­wa­ter. Manayunk has a lot to say about cli­mate change’s im­pact on flood­ing, as Manayunk too fre­quently re­ceives Roxbor­ough’s stormwa­ter. A tree, amaz­ingly, ad­dresses stormwa­ter — a ma­ture tree’s large um­brella of thou­sands if not mil­lions of leaves slow down rain­fall, al­low­ing wa­ter to trickle to the ground slowly long af­ter the storm has moved on. And tree roots act like sponges to mop up wa­ter, the tree’s dead leaves on the ground un­der­neath the tree also sop­ping up stormwa­ter. Cool beans: the more trees in our land­scape, the bet­ter we can ad­dress the in­creas­ingly in­tractable prob­lem of stormwa­ter.

Trees pro­vide food for all kinds of crea­tures. A dog­wood tree’s bright-red berries are eaten by some 90 species of crea­tures, in­clud­ing many birds who crave it in the nu­tri­entstarved win­ter months when the berry is smartly ready. Black cherry fruits are craved by many kinds of birds; acorns are eaten by thou­sands of species of an­i­mals, not just squir­rels.

A tree is also habi­tat, home to mil­lions of liv­ing things. A wood­pecker digs out a home in a trunk; that hole is later co-opted by a screech owl or rac­coon. Squir­rels are nest­ing high in the branches, chip­munks in the roots un­der­neath, bats be­hind the peel­ing bark (and those bats are eat­ing the mos­qui­toes in your yard; trust me — you love bats.)

Win­ter’s com­ing, and trees can also help you ad­dress the cold north winds. Plant­ing ev­er­green trees on your north­ern ex­po­sure can re­duce that wind — trees lower your heat­ing bill. (Yes, trees cool your house in the sum­mer and warm it in the win­ter!)

Trees, of course, are aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, lovely to look at — and heal­ing. Ev­i­dence in­di­cates that we are hard­wired to re­lax when look­ing at green­ery, so sit­ting in your yard sur­rounded by trees can ac­tu­ally lower your blood pres­sure and calm and soothe you. Trees are heal­ing.

And the 10th good thing about trees: money ac­tu­ally grows on trees. Ac­cord­ing to the USDA, a large tree in front of a house in­creases that home’s sales price by about $7,130, and if that tree is part of a beau­ti­ful, well-kept land­scape, your home’s value in­creases by about 10 per­cent. Plant trees, and your home gets a higher re­sale value.

So, Roxbor­ough, plant away!

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO — SCHUYLKILL CEN­TER

Trees act as nat­u­ral air con­di­tion­ers, with the um­brella of leaves pro­tect­ing the soil from the sun’s scorch­ing rays.

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