My friend wore a puzzled look on his face as I made a statement about oak trees and the their place in the River Valley ecosystem. Then he asked what could be construed as a loaded question, “Have you turned into a treehugger?”
I thought about it for a few moments.” Well, I really like trees,” I said. “If that makes me a treehugger, so be it.”
Obviously, I am not a quick-witted man. I need lots of time to process my thoughts adding and editing until they’re somewhat coherent. This is exactly why I’m a writer, not a speaker. But were I a quick-witted man, this would have been my response.
Let’s talk about trees. We take them for granted. Arkansans are blessed with about 190 different species of trees in our state. Even our larger cities are covered with trees. White oaks, red oaks, hickory, and pine dominate the highlands. Tupelo, water oak, willow, and cypress define our bottomlands.
We use trees to mark the seasons. The white blooms of the serviceberry in March tell us spring is almost here. As summer wanes, the flash of scarlet leaves on the black gum tell us autumn is right around the corner. Evergreens keep our spirits up during the dreary dormancy of winter. Mature trees of all kinds make the hot summer days a little more bearable by giving us shade.
We use trees for heat, for building our homes, for growing food and the list goes on. They increase the aesthetic value of anywhere they grow. They provide so many things we use on a regular basis, that civilization wouldn’t be possible without them. But can we see the bigger picture of what trees provide for us? Can we see the forest provided by the trees?
How many species of animals depend on trees? All of them. Nearly every terrestrial animal in Arkansas depends on trees. Sometimes they depend on trees directly as food, sometimes indirectly as food for prey, but they all depend on trees as habitat. Trees are the foundation for wildlife in Arkansas forests. The oak borer infestation of the Ozarks, back in the 1990s, was nearly a biodiversity disaster. Luckily, favorable conditions allowed the trees to overcome the oak borers, but foresters agree we dodged a bullet. Losing the oaks would drastically drop animal density in our forests. Deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, bobcat, blue jay; all would suffer. Trees are that important for wildlife. If you want to provide more wildlife habitat, plant a tree.
Trees are large-scale air purifiers. They filter the air, primarily using carbon dioxide, and release oxygen into the atmosphere. That oxygen production thing is a pretty big deal. Almost every non-plant life form on Earth needs oxygen. A large, mature tree can produce as much oxygen in one growing season as 10 people inhale in a year. As trees perform respiration they intercept airborne particles and absorb such pollutants as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. This particle removal also helps lower air temperature. If you want to improve air quality and help cool the Earth, plant a tree.
Trees protect our water supplies. Root systems stabilize stream banks preventing erosion and siltation. Trees can also filter out excess nutrients from farm runoff preventing damaging algal blooms. Sediment and out of control algal blooms are death to many life forms in a stream. A tree-filled bank is essential to a streams health. If you want to protect our streams, plant a tree.
Trees are responsible for so many “behind the scenes” actions supporting the rest of us on this planet that life as we know it could not exist without them. They do this even as we complain about leaves clogging the gutter and sap on our shiny vehicles.
Like too much money and too much fun, I don’t think there is such a thing as too many trees. From the acorns that feed the whitetails I hunt, to the hickory that keeps me warm on a cold January night, to the pine that provided the framework for my house — I owe a lot to trees. You do too. One of the other great things about trees is that they are a renewable resource and anybody can contribute to this sustainability. Take a little time to think about how important trees are to us, that trees are crucial to every life cycle in Arkansas.
And, if you want to do something great for… well, everyone, plant a tree.