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I bet you don't know these 8 amazing things about trees | The Climate Lemon
The Climate Lemon

I bet you don’t know these 8 amazing things about trees

trees forests ecosystem services
Photo credit: Brandon Green / Unsplash

It’s safe to say that life  would not be the same without trees. In fact, all human civilisation is dependent upon them. Not only as a source of valuable resources, but also for the ecological benefits they provide – called ecosystem services. We all know trees are awesome, but most people don’t quite understand all the important things they do.

I’m sure you know the basic stuff:

  • Trees produce oxygen, which we need to breath
  • They absorb carbon dioxide, helping us fight climate change
  • They produce timber, firewood and paper
  • They provide a habitat for wildlife

But do you know that trees are also a natural flood defence? Or that they help to block out excess noise? Or that patients heal quicker if they have a view of trees? Here’s 8 amazing benefits of trees that might be new to you.

8 amazing benefits of trees I bet you don’t know about*

1.  Trees prevent floods

trees reduce flooding

Flooding happens after heavy rain when rivers burst their banks or drainage systems overflow. Trees can help prevent this by absorbing much of the excess water before it flows into drains or rivers. The surface roots quickly absorb water as it seeps into the ground and the deep tap roots use up some of the groundwater, allowing the soil to absorb more.

As well as simply drinking a lot of water, trees also change the physical structure of the soil. The dropped leaves and twigs add organic matter, which allows the soil to hold more water – and the little microbes that eat them create tiny tunnels in the soil, helping water seep in more effectively.

This recent study says strategic tree-planting can reduce the ‘peak height’ of floods in downstream towns by up to 20%.

2. Trees ALSO prevent droughts

Maybe it’s not that surprising that trees are a natural flood defence, because they drink a lot of water. But get this: they also help to prevent droughts.

Trees and forests play a vital role in the water cycle. As well as drinking water through their roots, they release water through their leaves into the air – a process called transpiration. And they catch rain on their leaves, which evaporates back into the air to form rainclouds – although often the wind carries them and the rain falls somewhere else. Almost half of all rainfall is driven by this combined process of evapotranspiration by forests. Tree cover is around twice as efficient at this than agricultural land.

With more research, it may even be possible to increase rainfall to arid regions by strategic tree-planting in other places, using wind currents to transport the water vapour to where it’s needed most. This could be a gamechanger as climate change gets more serious.

3. Trees prevent soil erosion and landslides

trees prevent soil erosion

Soil erosion is probably the most unsexy environmental problem, but it’s a huge problem nonetheless. Half the world’s topsoil has been lost in the last 150 years.

Strong wind and rain can wash away the nutrient-rich topsoil, reducing soil fertility. This is a nightmare for agriculture, and it gets even worse: the topsoil is often washed into streams and rivers, where the vital resource becomes a pollutant, as it clogs up waterways and the high levels of nitrogen poisons aquatic life. Trees prevent this sorry state of affairs by physically holding the soil in place with their roots. Trees also protect the ground from the elements, shielding it from the wind and rain.

This is particularly crucial on hillsides, where erosion is more serious (thanks gravity) and can even cause dangerous landslides.

Extensive soil erosion eventually leads to land degradation and the spread of barren deserts, but trees can stop that process in its tracks. The Great Green Wall is a bold project to plant a forest all the way across the width of Africa to halt the spread of the Sahara Desert.

4. Trees boost soil fertility

trees improve soil fertility

The way trees regulate water and hold the soil together makes the soil better for growing crops, but it doesn’t stop there. They also boost soil fertility. You might think they would use up the nutrients, leaving less available for other plants – but trees are just too awesome not to be a net benefit. As they drop leaves and twigs, they decompose, feeding beneficial microbes and insects. All this organic matter is basically natural fertiliser. In turn it attracts more plants and wildlife and they make the soil even richer, powering a virtuous circle.

5. Trees help to buffer noise

trees reduce noise pollution trees are a sound buffer

Trees are even a natural form of sound proofing. They absorb and scatter sound waves, like anything that blocks their path. But they’re much more attractive than a screen, wall or mound of earth, and the gentle sounds of rustling leaves and swaying branches also helps to mask the unwanted noise. A dense belt of trees between something noisy and people who don’t want to hear it can reduce the noise pollution by several decibels. The effect is even stronger if combined with hedges and mounds of earth.

This could be an effective urban planning tool to limit the issue of noise around things like schools, microfactories and nightclubs.

6. Trees cool down hot cities

trees reduce the urban heat island effect

Cities tend to be a few degrees warmer than the surrounding rural areas, due to something called the urban heat island effect. That probably doesn’t sound too bad, especially if you live in the rather soggy UK like me, but it causes health problems and even deaths in the summer and increases energy demand for air conditioning – which bumps up costs and causes more carbon emissions. In the US, excess heat causes more deaths than hurricanes, floods and lightning combined.

Grey buildings and roads absorb more light than green vegetation does, emitting more heat and warming up the city. Urban trees (along with gardens, parks, green walls and greenroofs) counter this through the power of evapotranspiration. Their leaves release water vapour, cooling the surrounding air. Of course, trees also provide shade.

7. They make people happier, healthier and more productive

trees boost wellbeing, health and productivity
Trees have been shown to boost people’s health and wellbeing, and the effect is not entirely explained by their air-cleaning oxygen-giving properties.

If like me you find trees soothing, you’re not alone, and science explains it’s more than a warm fuzzy feeling. Studies show looking at trees and green plants calms the central nervous system, reduces cortisol (the stress hormone), slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Interestingly, even looking at photos of trees has some effect.

Patients that have a view of trees outside their window actually heal faster. The calming effect reduces stress and pain, allowing the patient’s immune system to function more effectively. Similarly, studies have shown workers to be more productive when they have views of nature.

No one knows exactly how trees and nature has this physical and psychological effect on us, but the biophilia hypothesis holds that humans crave nature because that’s how we evolved over millennia, with urban lifestyles being ridiculously recent and unnatural by comparison.

8. Trees provide livelihoods for billions of people

1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods

In a way, you and everyone else are dependent on trees, because of the vital ecosystem services we’ve just been discussing, not to mention products made from wood. But while you and me have so many indirect links to the forest, for many people around the world forests and trees are a direct lifeline. A massive 1.6 billion people are directly reliant on forests for their livelihood, according to the FAO.

Mostly in developing countries, these people depend on forest resources in three main ways: using wild food, wood and medicinal plants for regular household consumption, selling such products for income or using wild food as a safety net when crops fail. This last point is crucial for protecting people from hunger in countries that often lack a proper welfare state.

As you can see, trees have so many amazing properties that can help us not only reduce climate change but also adapt to its inevitable impacts – while making life better at the same time. That’s the kind of multifaceted solution I like. If you’re feeling a newfound love for trees, here’s some things you can do.

What you can do

  • When buying paper products (notebooks, toilet rolls, birthday cards…) choose ones with the FSC symbol. Or better yet, recycled.
  • Ask your local representative to plant more urban trees in your area
  • Give to charities like The Woodland Trust or American Forests
  • Take part in a tree planting session
  • Share this post to encourage people to think about the many benefits of trees

* If you already knew all eight of these, then congratulations: you win. Unfortunately The Climate Lemon is, um, fresh out of prizes…

So what do you think are the coolest benefits of trees? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @TheClimateLemon. And if you liked this post, subscribe now to get the next ones straight to your inbox!


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  • I have enjoyed reading this report about tree services. Really it is more useful and also helpful. I am very glad to go through this kind of informative article. Thanks for sharing a nice blog.

  • Great blog Post. I’ve spent minutes reading all of the great content about tree services and have found it tremendously valuable in learning as much as I can. Please keep up the great work sharing knowledge!

  • Thanks for writing this great article for us. I have gained good stuff from this website. Looking forward to your next article. I am happy to share this post to my friends. Keep it up.

  • Wonderful information! The college I teach at is hosting an Arbor Day event this November…do we have your permission to reproduce this information you wrote to provide to our attendees? Thank you for all your wonderful work!

    • Thank you Brie and sorry for the very late response. If you ever want to share my work in future for educational purposes you are very welcome to do so please just credit Tegan Tallullah and theclimatelemon.com – many thanks! 🙂

  • Trees absorb more sunlight not less because of their darker color. The reason that they stay cool is because of the evaporation by the leaves of water. By this evapotranspiration they cool themselfes to prevent themselfes getting burned by getting to hot in the sun. So by cooling themselfes they also keep the surrounding air cool. The air is not directly heated by the sun but by the sun heating up the earth surface. If you touch your car in the boiling sun than it is piping hot. So in fact forests have an big influence on the climate which is not realy valued or understood. By reducing the tropical rainforest we are demolishing the cooling systeem of the earth and sciense only looks at CO2. If we keep cutting the tropical rainforest the warming up off the climate will not stop by lower CO2 levels.

  • I did actually know these 8 facts but then as someone who studied Agriculture and Environmental Science I should. We lost our old oak tree in the storms at the beginning of the year but we will replant with a new oak to take its place. We won’t see it reach full size but hopefully many others will benefit from it over many centuries. #GoingGreen

    • Ha I bet you are across these then! Let me know if you know any other cool tree facts that I missed. And there’s something so beautiful about planting an oak tree which only future generations will see in its full glory.

  • This is so interesting! (And you have a very interesting blog!) I just learned in the last few years, related to some disaster, how trees help preventing flooding.
    I love trees and greenery 🙂 and was a bit upset when in my current hometown some year ago they cut down a lot of trees in the town centre and dug up the grass to create a huge ugly gravel field with even more ugly benches, because “people need more light”. Well ok? People need green and esthetically pleasant areas even more!

    • Thanks Susanne glad you liked it! And oh no! That’s terrible your city cut down lots of your city trees 🙁 How sad, there’s lots of reasons why cities should be doing the opposite and planting more! Have you shared your opinion with your representatives? Even a tweet tagging them can help get the message across… Thanks again for reading and I hope you subscribe and come back again! 🙂

  • Love this post, Tegan. We sometimes take trees for granted and want to change our environment to suit us (ie. cut down trees just to have a better view) without any thought to the impact we have.

    I live in a province (BC, Canada) where we have clearcut forests and still do. The impact on the environment has been detrimental to many species of wildlife.

    But we can change that as you mention by choosing to buy products made from FSC lumber or buy recycled.

  • Wonderful post Tegan, I am a tree hugger and know only too well how their energy helps heal, protect and give life not only to us in oxygen but to the thousands of species that rely upon them..
    Thank you for sharing your awareness. The world needs more like you..
    Many thanks..

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Hey, I’m Tegan

I'm a passionate sustainability enthusiast, blogger and communications professional. I live in Brighton, UK, with my boyfriend and tortoise. Can usually be found reading, writing or eating chickpea burritos. Wanna chat? I'm at @TeganTallullah on Twitter.

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