Trees are amazing.
They clean the air and water: in fact they even help to make the air and water.
They improve our quality of life and can even help us to live longer in a variety of ways.
But as wonderful as trees are, we often take them for granted. So I’d like to tell you about all of the marvelous benefits of trees.
Why You Should Plant a Tree Today
Trees really do need our help. The planet is currently losing over 26 million hectares (64 million acres) of tree cover per year. In 2015, it was estimated that we cut down around 15 billion trees each year; that figure has gone up considerably today.
This staggering loss is due to deforestation, the destruction of natural habitats, the removal of trees for the development of housing, industry, or roads, and unsustainable logging practices.
It’s also the result of wildfires. While they do occur naturally, the recent wildfires that raged out of control in the Amazon were worsened enormously by climate change and, in many cases, started by people: farmers or loggers wishing to clear land.
As of 2019, the world lost a forested area the size of the UK every year.
While most of us can’t replant forests (although please see our article on tree planting grants if you’re in a position to plant a lot of trees!), we can all do our part to help stop the destruction of trees, woodland and old-growth forests and begin to replenish what we’ve lost.
Living more responsibly and sustainably is always a good place to start. Beyond that, if you have a garden or a bit of land, or you know a nearby forest or park where you’d be allowed to plant a native tree species, get planting!
You can learn more about how to pick the best tree for you in our blog, but whether you want a fruit tree, a tree for shade, or just a new friend in the garden, tree planting is a great activity that will help you and the planet too.
So, here it is: our list of the top twenty-four benefits of trees.
24 Benefits of Trees
1. Trees Reduce and Prevent Water Pollution
Trees roots filter water, storing or digesting pollutants. They slow the path of groundwater, allowing it to remain in aquifers after filtration rather than be carried away, toxins and all.
The presence of leaves in the canopy softens the effect of heavy rainfall, reducing flooding and storm surges that might otherwise carry pollutants from agricultural, industrial, or even habitation land into streams, rivers, and the oceans, which all too often are unprotected by riparian zones.
Water running down a tree’s trunk is channeled into the ground below the tree where it is absorbed and reused.
2. Trees Stabilize the Soil to Prevent Erosion
The roots of trees provide a sort of network below the surface of the ground that stabilizes soil. This is extremely important on hillsides or on the banks of streams and rivers; erosion can take with it precious topsoil, nutrients, animal habitats, and even structures, if the erosion is severe enough.
The prevention of erosion is also vitally important in the prevention of water pollution, as eroded soil can choke waterways or introduce toxins to fragile aquatic ecosystems.
3. Trees Provide Food
Trees provide food for millions of people and even more insects, animals, and birds. From cultivated fruit like apples or lemons to wild nuts and even leaves, trees directly sustain all life through the nourishment they offer.
4. Trees Provide Wood
Sustainably harvested trees, perhaps through an ancient method like coppicing (which doesn’t kill the tree) or even responsible forestry, provide wood for fire, shelter, and the myriad other wooden or wood-derived objects that we all use every day. Wood is an incredibly valuable resource: far too important for unsustainable logging practices to continue!
5. Trees Help with Water Conservation
By reducing run-off and minimizing flooding, trees help to preserve the water levels of aquifers / ground-water reservoirs.
The shade provided by leafy canopies reduces the evaporation of water from grass and soil, and the cooling that the canopy provides reduces the water needs of surrounding plant life. And as trees transpire (breathe), they increase the water vapor in the atmosphere.
Mulch created from green waste can also help to conserve water by minimizing evaporation and erosion.
6. Trees Provide Oxygen
Trees give off oxygen when they transpire in the same way that we give off carbon dioxide when we breathe. In one year, the oxygen requirements of 18 people can be met simply by an acre of mature trees.
7. Trees Sequester Carbon Dixoide
As trees give off oxygen, they take in and store, or sequester, carbon dioxide. To give an example, in 25 years, a silver maple tree planted today will have sequestered approximately 400 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Over 100 years, the average tree might absorb around 2200 pounds of CO2. But given that, in 2016, the average resident of the US emitted 20 tons (that’s 40,000 pounds!) of CO2 each year, we’ve all got a ways to go to reduce our emissions.
While trees are vital in helping us to soften our impact on the planet, we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions too.
8. Trees Make Rain
Trees absorb water through their roots, and release it again as water vapor through the pores in their leaves. Trees also increase the concentration of groundwater held in the soil, which, in any particular forested area, allows more water to evaporate and re-condense into rain clouds.
It’s long been thought that forests do increase rainfall levels and not just that rainforests grow where it rains a lot.
There’s now increasing scientific evidence to prove this theory, and researchers have found that the moisture created by the large-scale transpiration of forests and other significant concentrations of plant life can draw additional moisture in over the land from the coast, thereby creating more rain not only in the forested area but in the entire region.
(This is an extremely complex subject, and I’ve only barely mentioned the amazing atmosphere-regulating potential of trees and forests. Maybe a subject for a future article!)
9. Trees Help Fight Climate Change
By sequestering carbon dioxide, trees help to combat the effects of anthropogenic climate change. Their ability to cool the environment reduces our energy usage, and the ability of trees to influence weather patterns can be harnessed to help us rebalance ecosystems that our actions have disturbed.
10. Trees Provide Jobs and Economic Benefits
Trees, especially when in orchards or sustainably managed woodland, create employment and training opportunities.
Fruit trees require training, pruning, and regular care, and then of course there’s the harvest to consider and its subsequent fruit to sell. Woodland management requires regular, sensitive human intervention.
Forests harvested sustainably for their wood must be cared for, and thankfully, the old skills like coppicing and charcoal-making haven’t quite died out yet.
Green waste management and mulching can provide communities with jobs and income (and ways to save water): all wonderful chances for us to flourish while ensuring that trees do too.
11. Trees Give Wildlife a Home
Even a single tree provides a habitat for moss, lichens, fungi, insects, bird life, and even small mammals. A woodland or forest creates the opportunity for a large, thriving ecosystem.
With biodiversity and natural habitats threatened on a global scale, the importance of trees as wildlife habitats can’t be underestimated.
12. Trees Help Us to Heal
This may be one of the most important benefits of all. The healing power and potential of trees and our interactions with them is just beginning to be explored and understood further, but it shows how essential trees are to our survival and success as a species.
Prescription drugs derived from nature can treat almost 90% of all the human diseases of which modern medicine is aware.
Three-quarters of all cancer treatments had natural origins as of 2013, and 50% of the US’s ten most-prescribed drugs originated from animals, plants, or microorganisms. In terms of trees and plants specifically, 50% of currently used medications have been developed using substances from the plant kingdom.
Science is continuously discovering new substances in the natural world that can be used to treat everything from minor health inconveniences to life-threatening diseases and infections. Rainforests in particular contain a wealth of known and yet-to-be-discovered medicines and healing substances.
The humble aspirin was derived from willow bark, and I myself take a hawthorn supplement (prescribed by a cardiologist) to help with my life-long heart condition.
Going beyond the boundaries of modern sciences, we can look also to the healing traditions of indigenous, tribal, and ancient peoples who used, and use, tree medicine to treat and cure a wide variety of ailments.
Just because it doesn’t exist in modern pharmaceutical science doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t valid, and there are many grey areas.
The use of hawthorn in cardiac conditions, for example, is almost unheard-of outside Europe, but not unusual here among physicians and alternative healthcare practitioners alike.
In addition to those people using tree medicine as a result of their heritage, upbringing, and cultural wisdom, there are also many individuals who recognize the value of tree and natural medicine whether or not it has the scientific establishment’s seal of approval.
Research has proven that patients in hospital who can see green from their windows have faster recovery times. They also have fewer complications from surgery and require fewer painkillers. Time spent in nature reduces anxiety and helps children with ADHD to feel more calm.
We have so much still to learn about the healing benefits of trees, not least that they extend far beyond just physical medicines.
The Japanese even have a term for one aspect of the healing power of trees and how it can be experienced: Shinrin-yoku. Meaning forest bathing, Shinrin-yoku involves a relaxed and calm visit to a forest, to walk slowly through it or even just to spent a little while among the trees.
Shinrin-yoku has been proven to enhance immune function and reduce inflammation. It may also help to prevent or to slow the growth and development of cancer.
Just breathing forest air allows us to benefit from the phytoncides, or “essential oils”, that trees release to protect themselves and their forest companions from parasites, pests, and diseases.
They have anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Forests work to maintain the health of their inhabitants, and they can help to keep us healthy too.
13. Trees Help Us To Connect With Nature and Ourselves
Although this may seem out of place in the modern world, it’s important to remember that trees help us to connect with nature and to reconnect with ourselves.
While we may spend our days on the internet, worrying about the economy, politics, and the state of the world, we are ultimately still the same, natural beings that we’ve always been.
Humans are an inseparable part of nature, and nature is an inseparable part of us. The more we connect to that, the more truly fulfilled our lives have the potential to be.
14. Trees are Beautiful
Some might argue that the beauty of trees is subjective, but, on a basic human level, we do seem to need to see green. But beyond that, trees (with their beautiful greenery) can cover up unsightly things like concrete walls and structures.
They can hide roadways not only from the sight of people living nearby, but from their hearing as well, blocking out the incessant sounds of traffic.
And while it is possible to try to measure the value of trees’ beauty, it’s also important to step back from quantifications and think about how trees make us feel.
The joy and peace that come from seeing the cherry blossoms in spring. In Japan the arrival of cherry blossoms each spring is cause for a national celebration.
Or looking out over a sea of green with eyes tired from life in a concrete world can’t be measured in numbers, but in many ways the emotional and spiritual benefits of trees are far more important than the economic or practical points.
We, as human beings, are more than numbers. We may forget that sometimes, but trees can help us to remember. They keep us in tune with the seasons and give us anchors to nature in our fast-paced, disconnected world.
15. Trees Reduce Criminal Activity
Trees and green areas have been shown to reduce crime and even violent crime. Communities and neighborhoods with trees are less likely to suffer from criminal activity and violence than those devoid of greenery.
16. Trees Bring People Together
Tree planting schemes can give diverse groups of people a shared focus and shared goal. A community involved with planting and caring for a woodland, or even just a few trees, is united in the shared desire of its members to see the trees grow and thrive.
Neighborhood trees often serve as focal points for local residents, and forest activities can provide opportunities for people from all walks of life to enjoy and learn from nature together.
17. Trees Help with Cooling
Trees shield black tarmac from the sun and lessen its absorption of heat. They release water vapor into the air during transpiration. By shading homes, streets, parks, and forest floors, trees cool our towns, cities, and rural areas.
18. Trees Offer a Windbreak
Trees can offer a valuable windbreak when their leaves are dense and compact. This can not only protect houses and buildings from wind damage, but helps them to stay warmer too.
19. Trees Increase Property Value
Houses for sale that have trees planted in their yards or garden sell more quickly than those with no trees. They may also sell for 5-15% more. Homes on a tree-lined street can sell for up to 25% more than homes in areas with no or very few trees.
20. Trees Help us to Learn and Play
Whether it’s through a forest school, apple-picking day, or afternoon in a treehouse, trees teach us about nature, sharing, and community. They encourage us to reach out, not only to them, but also to those people with whom we share our lives and communities.
21. Trees Increase Business Traffic and Value
It has been shown that commercial and retail areas with trees and landscaping attract more business than business districts without. Tree-lined streets reduce the speed of passing traffic and allow drivers to see the shopfronts they pass by; this may encourage them to stop or to return later.
Shoppers tend to linger for longer in greener shopping areas. Offices and apartments in green areas with plenty of trees are more occupied, occupied more often, and workers in those areas say that they’re more productive and less fatigued.
22. Trees Provide Privacy
Trees can provide houses and neighborhoods, or even shops and business, with much-needed privacy. They can contribute to people feeling cocooned in their homes, safe from prying eyes and out of sight of passing cars and pedestrians.
23. Trees Make the Air Cleaner
Trees can remove pollutants from the air, substances like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, by filtering them through their leaves. They’re also very good at cleaning the air of particulate matter, and this primarily happens in two ways.
The first is that clouds of these particles get dispersed when they drift into trees and plants. This dispersion dilutes their concentration so they’re less likely to be inhaled by humans. Or, if they are inhaled, it will be a lesser quantity than if the cloud was still very dense.
Secondly, particulate matter can become trapped in the leaves of trees and bushes, especially those with hairy or waxy leaves. This is called deposition, and it means that trapped particles, rather than being inhaled, will be washed away by rains.
Of course, even though trees can help to clean the air, they’re not actually solving the problem of air pollution. They don’t get rid of the pollutants. The best way to do that is to stop producing them in the first place.
24. Trees are Friends and Companions
It may sound silly to call a tree a friend, but many people do. There’s even new research that suggests that trees may be able to recognize us as humans.
Sharing your joys, sorrows, grief, and laughter with a tree is a wonderful experience, and even though trees can’t speak to us in words, it really is possible to form relationships with them.
Caring for another living thing, be it a tree, animal, or person, is a rewarding and mutually beneficial experience. If you can plant a tree, tend to it and watch it grow. Be there for it, and it will always be there for you.
Why You Really Should Plant a Tree
Trees have always been integral to our survival and the survival of all life on earth. While we can’t all fix the damage that’s already been done by deforestation and the loss of trees to development, climate change, or even disease, recognizing the essentialness and importance of trees to all of our lives is a vital first step.
Whatever you can do to make the world cleaner, healthier, and more beautiful, even if it’s just planting one tree, is incredibly worthwhile. You can improve your life, your area, and your planet all in one go, and you can give a tree a chance at a long, healthy life.
From dwarf cherries to mighty oaks and ancient yews, start planting today for a better world tomorrow.
Featured Image Photo by Gennaro Leonardi at Pixabay
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Kira Nash lives with her family in the sunny French countryside amidst bees and swallows. A writer, editor, and artist by trade, she also teaches creative meditation. She’s passionate about nature and ecology and tries to live as green a life as possible. In her spare time, she surfs, reads, and plays with her cats, although not usually all at once. She loves tea a little too much.