Put on good boots and grab a shovel, because Arbor Day is coming up on April 27 this year in the United States and on other seasonally appropriate days around the world. Trees are important multipurpose natural resources and have provided fuel, food and shelter through the ages. The Guardian describes how England was almost deforested by the British navy in efforts to build battleships and defeat the Spanish Armada. Some cultures believe trees have mystical properties: According to Druidry, Celtic nations consider rowan trees to be sacred, offering protection from witches and dark magic. Clearly there’s more to trees than meets the eye.
Why Trees Are Important
Trees are great indicators of climate change, and they are also great assets for dealing with its effects, according to Canopy. Their benefits include:
Photosynthesis, Carbon Capture and Oxygen
As plants, trees convert sunlight into energy by photosynthesis. This process captures carbon dioxide, creates oxygen and captures carbon as wood, according to the United Kingdom Forestry Commission. This respiratory process also filters particulate and volatile airborne pollution, Nature Blogs noted. Coastal blue carbon, comprising trees like mangroves in addition to salt water marsh ecosystems, traps a significant amount of atmospheric carbon, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
Trees are the New AC
Leafy canopies cool, and temperatures under shady canopies can be 7–15ºC (44–59ºF) lower than in unshaded areas, as described in The Conversation. Architects and town planners could leverage this benefit to maximize building cooling by planting more trees in urban areas.
Ground Control and Habitat
Tree roots spread widely outwards from the trunk and, in doing so, can stabilize the surrounding soil. Planting mangroves along vulnerable coastlines does more than soak up carbon — it can mitigate effects from storm surges as weather patterns become more violent, notes the Environmental Protection Agency. On slopes, planting suitable trees can prevent erosion from rain and floods.
The Advent of Arbor Day
According to Smithsonian Gardens, the first tree celebration started in 1594 in Mondoñedo, Spain. Citizens realized the importance of trees and decided to plant more for the future.
The first modern Arbor Day in the U.S. arrived in 1872, when residents of Nebraska City set about repopulating the plains with trees. Connecticut tree fan Birdsey Northrop was such an enthusiast that he spread the word, convincing Japan, Canada and Europe to celebrate trees’ importance, too.
Arbor Day’s Changing Message
Trees obviously enhance the appearance of a neighborhood, but while everyone loves green outdoor space, there’s a lot more to trees than just landscaping. The yearly Arbor Day celebration now has a more serious message for why trees are important, and it has to do with climate change.
National parks are experiencing tree loss due to climate change, increased drought, wildfires and infestations, none of which is inevitable, according to The Conversation. Arbor Day is a chance to bring the focus back to our trees and the environment.
Trees are an effective way of dealing with climate change, mitigating its effects and, as noted above, helping reverse them through carbon capture. Greater numbers of mature trees can make a bigger difference — which is why Arbor Day is becoming more important each year.
What are you doing on April 27? Go on — get out there and plant a tree.