When you look at trees from the ground up, you can identify four parts: the roots, the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. All four parts are vital to the health of the tree. What might be harder to see is just how important trees are to the health of the earth and all of us people! Here are some of the many ways that trees help us all.
The roots of trees help prevent erosion, which makes streams and rivers healthier by keeping soil where it is supposed to be. If topsoil washes into streams and rivers during heavy rains, it can lower oxygen levels in the water and hurt fish. Soil and sediment can form layers in areas that cause other problems, like changing the water depth.
Trees also help us breathe! Tree trunks transport water and nutrients from the roots to the branches, which hold the leaves. Leaves are like tiny chemistry laboratories. They use water from the roots, the sun’s energy, and carbon dioxide — one of the gases in the air — in a process called photosynthesis, which creates sugars to feed the tree. While making their own food and absorbing carbon dioxide, trees discard oxygen, which is the gas in the air that animals (including people) breathe. One large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people!
Trees also store carbon dioxide in their fibers, which are found in the roots, trunk, branches, stems, and leaves. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere helps keep the earth warm through a process called the greenhouse effect, which traps heat from the sun. Too much carbon dioxide makes the earth heat up too much, causing strong storms and sea-level rise. Since trees absorb carbon dioxide, they can help reduce the greenhouse effect. One mature tree absorbs about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year.
Now that people understand how important trees are, groups are getting together to plant more trees and help forests in other ways. Arborists and forestry specialists study trees, tree diseases, and ways to keep trees healthy. They work with community groups to promote healthy forests.
Some people help support the health of natural forests by removing dead brush to prevent bad wildfires. They may remove smaller trees to open up space that helps other trees grow larger. There are even groups in cities that focus on planting trees to provide shade for recreation, food for wildlife and people, and carbon absorption to help cities cool down in summer months.
You can help the earth and people, too, by planting more amazing trees.