Earth Day 2012: Plant a Tree!

This Earth Day, our theme is simple: Plant a tree. We were inspired by a recent op-ed by Jim Robbins in the New York Times: “Why Trees Matter. “And we were also inspired by the beauty of the springtime trees around us.

At Stevens Institute, Hoboken. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes

In the NY Times piece, Robbins explains how trees are at the forefront of climate change. Hot, drier weather is stressing, and often killing, trees worldwide. The examples he cites include some of North America’s most ancient trees, the alpine bristlecone forests, which are falling victim to a voracious beetle and an Asian fungus. Prolonged droughts have killed more than five million urban shade trees last year. In the Amazon, two severe droughts have killed billions more.

And yet, trees perform essential functions that we don’t always appreciate. Here are a few Robbins highlights:

  • Through photosynthesis, trees turn sunlight into food for insects, wildlife, and people (apple or pear anyone?), as well as create wood for fuel, furniture, and homes. Trees contribute to our emotional well being by providing beauty in our surroundings and much needed shade.
  • When tree leaves decompose, they leach acids into the ocean that help fertilize plankton. When plankton thrive, so does the rest of the food chain. Fishermen have replanted forests along coasts and rivers to successfully bring back depleted fish and oyster stocks.
  • Trees release beneficial chemicals that seems to help regulate the climate; others are anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. Aspirin’s active ingredient, for example, comes from willows.
  • Trees are the planet’s heat shield. They keep the concrete and asphalt of cities and suburbs 10 or more degrees cooler and protect our skin from the sun’s harsh UV rays.

Plant a Tree

I live in one of the most densely populated cities in the U.S. Some years ago, I planted a small tree (about a foot high, purchased from a nursery) in our backyard with my sons. The tree is now about 20 feet high and we enjoy watching the leaves change each fall and the birds hanging out on the branches.

No matter where you live, you can plant a tree.

Even if you live in an apartment and don’t have a back yard, you might be able to find a tree-planting initiative in your city. New York City, for example, has an initiative called MillionTreesNYC, in which volunteers plant trees or adopt trees and care for them after they’re planted.

View of Empire State Building, at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken. Photo by Mary Jo Rhodes.

And, of course, our amphibian friends need trees, especially those arboreal frogs in the Hylidae family, many of which live in tropical and temperate forests.

For more information (including information about where to buy tree seedlings), see the Arbor Day Foundation.

Happy Earth Day!