Monday, January 30, 2017

The Big Tree Blog   
 Part 1

Trees are the giants in the landscape; the keystone plants capable of creating and maintaining micro-climate niches in nature and within the landscape. 

My youngest son, Reid at age 11 and 5’-7” tall, standing beneath a large mahogany at John Pennekamp State Park, Key Largo, Florida.

To better communicate the value of trees (and natural resources) data bases have been created that calculate the monetary benefits. We have outlined some of the vital services trees provide as well as what they need from us to their job. Sources for free trees and ongoing tree planting citizen involved programs will be included in The Big Tree Blog Part 2.

Trees clean our air and are an integral component of the entirety of living organisms that maintain the balance of our naturally self-sustaining earth system. To understand how, a review of middle school science is noted below.

Trees (plants) sequester carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water as part of the complex process of photosynthesis.  A trees (plants) ability to intake carbon dioxide, water and powered by the energy of sunlight produce sugars used for plant growth and oxygen is almost magical. Six molecules of carbon dioxide plus six molecules of water plus sunlight produce one molecule of glucose plus one molecule of oxygen are released into the atmosphere.An acre of pine trees (~120 trees) has the potential to sequester roughly 5 tons of CO2 per year.”

To put it simply, add 6 units of water to 6 units of carbon dioxide, stir in sunlight and you yield a unit of sugar, a unit of oxygen and a unit of water.

Visit the Botanical Society of America to calculate how many acres of trees are needed to offset your carbon footprint.

Life in the Trees
Additionally, we know that trees greatly increase plant and animal life diversity in the environment whether natural forest, farmland or urban landscape and parks. Tomás Carlo, associate professor of biology at Penn State notes “This is important because higher plant diversity is associated with increased provision of ecosystem services, such as nutrient cycling and the production of food and water.” This links us right back to the entirety of living components that contribute to creating our self-sustainable earth and the integral role trees play.
Ongoing research by Sanford University, notes 908 different species (plant & animal) documented in a gradient of forest trees in Costa Rica.  You can view a recap of notes from the extensive 10 year research project in Futurity’s post “Even 1 Tree Adds Biodiversity to In-Between Areas”  

All around us trees are hosting an almost unnoticed habitat for birds, butterflies, moths, lizards, bees, insects, and other plants in our urban environment, perhaps not on the scale of the redwoods or trees growing in a tropical rain forest. Every tree makes a difference and it is estimated that collectively trees provide for 80% of the world biodiversity and filter more than half of our water in the United States.

Trees and Water
“Islands of the Future”, a five-part documentary produced by Längengrad Film Produktionc, beautifully illustrates how trees on the island of Madeira capture moisture from winds blowing across the ocean. Some of this water is absorbed by the tree roots. Excess water drips off the leaves and both recharges ground water and feeds an extensive man made system of waterways, providing water for the island.

Trees are Cool!
Trees provide a huge natural element to buffer the driving forces of climate change by the bringing water into the environment, shielding against winds, and providing cooling! However, planting more trees in our landscapes cannot alone make a significant shift to cool temperatures. We will need to change our habits, as well as grow and preserve habitats. With a concerted effort in all areas that effect our climate, we can begin to make a shift to correct the balance of nature and planting trees. Many programs, plans, and resources already in place to help us.

A Look Back at Old Giants

Below:The Shelton Family next to a Castanea dentata in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The oldest, recently documented, American Chestnut was a dead stem at least 270 yrs. old (photo © courtesy of Great Smoky Mountains National Park Library and The American Chestnut Foundation).

                                                                           Above: Long leaf Pine Forests were once                                                                            abundant in early America                                                                                   

Above: Existing old growth trees in Tongass National Forest in Alaska                  

Largest specimen of Gumbo Limbo in North America photographed at De Soto National Park, Bradenton, Florida by Jason Collin

Meet us here in February for another look at these giants and what we can do and where you can find free trees that will be the right tree for you.

Barbara McAdam
Urban Horticulture Program Specialist
Florida Yards & Neighborhoods/Florida-Friendly Landscaping
UF/IFAS Extension- Miami-Dade County
Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department

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