Think about it: when was the last time you felt gratitude towards a tree? We owe much more to trees than we are used to thinking. It is estimated that half a dozen mature oak trees produce enough oxygen to support the average person, and over the centuries they are able to absorb a huge amount of this problematic carbon.
Trees are also integral to maintaining the stability of the landscape. By absorbing water from the soil through their roots, trees make forested watersheds much less prone to flooding than those dominated by other types of vegetation. And vice versa – in dry conditions, trees protect the soil and preserve its moisture, their roots bind the earth, and the shade and fallen leaves protect it from the drying and erosive effects of the sun, wind and rain.
home for wildlife
Trees can provide a wide variety of places for animals to live, as well as food for various life forms. Invertebrates live on the trees, eating leaves, drinking nectar, gnawing bark and wood – and they, in turn, feed on other species of living creatures, from parasitic wasps to woodpeckers. Among the roots and branches of trees, deer, small arboreal mammals and birds find refuge for themselves. Spiders and mites, mushrooms and ferns, mosses and lichens live on trees. In one oak, you can find up to several hundred different species of inhabitants – and this is not taking into account the fact that there is also life in the roots and earth near the tree.
Our genetic ancestors consumed wood products long before civilization began. There is even speculation that our color vision evolved as an adaptation to enable us to judge fruit ripeness.
The cycle of life
Even when a tree ages and dies, its work continues. The crevices and cracks that appear in old trees provide safe nesting and nesting sites for birds, bats and other small to medium sized mammals. The standing dead forest is both habitat and support for vast biological communities, while the fallen dead forest supports another and even more diverse community: bacteria, fungi, invertebrates, and the animals that consume them, from centipedes to hedgehogs. The obsolete trees decompose, and their remains become part of an extraordinary soil matrix in which life continues to develop.
Materials and medicine
In addition to food, trees provide a variety of materials such as cork, rubber, wax and dyes, parchment, and fibers such as kapok, coir and rayon, which are made from pulp extracted from wood pulp.
Medicines are also produced thanks to trees. Aspirin is derived from willow; the antimalarial quinine comes from the cinchona tree; chemotherapeutic taxol – from yew. And the leaves of the coca tree are not only used in medicine, but are also a source of flavors for Coca-Cola and other drinks.
It’s time to pay back for all the services that trees provide us. And since many of the trees we continue to cut down are quite old, we also need to understand what proper compensation looks like. Replacing a 150-year-old beech or even a relatively young 50-year-old pine with a single shoot that will not soon reach a similar age and height is almost pointless. For each felled mature tree, there should be several tens, hundreds or even thousands of seedlings. Only in this way will balance be achieved – and this is the least we can do.