Health Angels: Trees for life

Trees have always fascinated people. They are the biggest living things on our planet and one of the most beautiful. Trees appear in many religions and have inspired artists for thousands of years.

The oldest trees

Trees are also the oldest living organisms on earth. They are a direct link with thousands of years of history. The great age of trees makes them useful for all sorts of scientific research. The rings inside a tree are particularly useful to tell scientists about changes in the climate that happened many thousands of years ago, before written records were kept.

The oldest living organism on earth is a bristlecone pine tree which grows in the USA. It is about 4,700 years old – which means that it was growing when the Egyptians built the Pyramids.

Sri Maha Bodhi is a banyan tree growing in Sri Lanka. It is the oldest tree in the world that has a recorded history – of more than 23 centuries. It is worshipped by more than 2,000 people daily because it is believed to be a sapling from the original tree that Buddha sheltered under in India over 2,500 years ago.

The gingko tree is one of the oldest species of tree still living today. We know that it was living 160 million years ago when dinosaurs ruled the earth. Watch out for it if you see a dinosaur film like Jurassic Park! But gingko fossils disappeared about seven million years ago. Scientists thought that it was extinct until it was discovered in Japan in 1691. Buddhist monks had continued to cultivate the tree. Today it is popular in parks and gardens and is widely used in natural medicine.

The community of trees

Trees may have a lot to teach us about being part of a community and how co-operation is better for a society than competition. Scientists are only just beginning to understand how it all works, but we now know that a community of trees growing together shares all of the available resources with each other. So, strong trees in a good position will share food and water with weaker trees that receive less sunlight. They do this through their roots, through the soil and also through the networks of tiny fungi that grow in the soil between them.

And they don’t only share with trees of the same species – any type of tree can benefit. A community of trees makes itself stronger by working together. The roots of giant redwood trees, for example, grow together under the ground. It’s as if they are holding hands. This means that they are much stronger when there are heavy winds or floods.

Trees that are grown in city conditions do not live as long as trees that grow in a natural environment, maybe because they are more isolated. And people who work with trees know that a community with a good mixture of different species is stronger and more resistant to insects and diseases.

The energy of trees

It has been proved that patients in hospital get better faster, feel less pain and go home quicker if there are trees outside the windows of their rooms. Spiritual and religious teachers for many years have been telling their students to learn from trees, to notice their stillness and strength and try to imitate it. It is true that trees absorb enormous amounts of energy from the sun – more than any other living thing. And some people believe that you can feel this energy if you choose a tree that you feel attracted to, put your arms around it and stay there holding it for a while.

This ‘tree-hugging’ is believed to be good for stress, make you sleep better and help you to feel more positive and calm. And more and more people are doing it. The Irish politician Gerry Adams once told a journalist that he regularly hugged trees. He said that it gave him a sense of calm and strength.

We all know that trees are essential for the environment and the survival of our planet. Perhaps they have even more to offer us in the future.

TREES COMBAT CLIMATE CHANGE

Excess carbon dioxide (CO2) is building up in our atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Trees absorb CO2, removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air.

TREES CLEAN THE AIR

Trees absorb odors and pollutant gases (nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone) and filter particulates out of the air by trapping them on their leaves and bark.

TREES PROVIDE OXYGEN

In one year an acre of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people.

TREES COOL THE STREETS AND THE CITY

Average temperatures  have risen 6°F in the last 50 years as tree coverage has declined and the number of heat-absorbing roads and buildings has increased.

TREES CONSERVE ENERGY

Three trees placed strategically around a single-family home can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent. By reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.

TREES SAVE WATER

Shade from trees slows water evaporation from thirsty lawns. As trees transpire, they increase atmospheric moisture.

TREES HELP PREVENT WATER POLLUTION

Trees reduce runoff by breaking rainfall thus allowing the water to flow down the trunk and into the earth below the tree. This prevents storm water from carrying pollutants to the ocean.

TREES HELP PREVENT SOIL EROSION

On hillsides or stream slopes, trees slow runoff and hold soil in place.

TREES PROVIDE FOOD

An apple tree can yield up to 15-20 bushels of fruit per year and can be planted on the tiniest urban lot. Aside from fruit for humans, trees provide food for birds and wildlife.

TREES HEAL

Studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with less complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.

TREES CREATE ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES

Fruit harvested from community orchards  provide income. Green waste management and landscaping arise when cities value mulching and its water-saving qualities. Training for youth interested in green jobs is also a great way to develop economic opportunities from trees.

TREES ARE TEACHERS AND PLAYMATES

Whether as houses for children or creative and spiritual inspiration for adults, trees have provided the space for human retreat throughout the ages.

TREES BRING DIVERSE GROUPS OF PEOPLE TOGETHER

Tree plantings provide an opportunity for community involvement and empowerment that improves the quality of life in our neighborhoods. All cultures, ages, and genders have an important role to play at a tree planting or tree care event.

TREES PROVIDE A CANOPY AND HABITAT FOR WILDLIFE

Sycamore and oak are among the many urban species that provide excellent urban homes for birds, bees, possums and squirrels.

TREES PROVIDE building materials and paper and Trees can be selectively harvested for fuel and craft wood.

HOW MANY TREES YOU NEED TO PLANT TO OFFSET YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?

The most important contributor to climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. When fossil fuels are burned, carbon within the fuel is released in to the air causing earth temperature to increase.

According to a international study  the lowest carbon emission communities within US release about 8 metric tons of CO2 every year.

THE SOLUTION .

You can help offset your carbon emission by participating in tree planting projects. Trees soak up carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?

Everyone has a responsibility to reduce their individual carbon footprint, and there are lots of ways to do so. Most people are unaware how critical carbon emission is and how much effect their energy usage has on the environment.

One of the most effective ways to offset your carbon emission is through planting trees. Planting trees improve the natural environment for the benefit of climate, wildlife and people.

If you are one of those conscious people who takes carbon emission seriously you can contribute to the Health.co.za tree planting project.


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