Our property is defined by the big, towering pines that surround it. We have a 1/2 acre of land that’s fairly open, ringed by these beautiful pines, and a few oaks and smaller red maples.
I commented on Rambling Woods last week, that the pines specifically around our house make me nervous in high winds. They survived hurricane/tropical storm Irene, and lost far more limbs during the crazy ice storm of 08, and our October snowstorm this past fall than during Irene, but they still make me nervous. They’re big, they’re definitely older than our house (which is almost 60), and if they fell just right (or wrong) would crush our roof, and anyone on the second floor (where our two bedrooms are).
But I’ve never really considered having someone come in and take them down – they’re critical to the character of our property, and do quite a lot in their own way to add to the biodiversity around our house. So for my Thursday 13 I’m encouraging conservation; here are 13 uses our trees (and probably the ones around your home, too) serve us (and our furred, feathered and leggy neighbors) in the hopes of helping to convince people to think twice before clearing their property:
1. Shade – I can’t imagine how hot our house and property would get without the cooling shade these trees provide in the summer months.
2. Privacy – my family and I appreciate that our every move can’t be seen from the busy road we live on, and I know the squirrels and birds that use and/or live in these trees appreciate being shielded from predators (and us humans).
3. Housing – Ok, so we don’t live in our trees, but we have many critters that do. Chickadees, downy woodpeckers, grey and red squirrels are the most evident, but trees are whole ecosystems in and of themselves housing a multitude of species of insects, spiders, fungi and lichen.
4. Food – pine needles can be used to make a tea that is very high in vitamin C, and acorns from our oaks have a large variety of food uses – not the least of which is crushing them into a versatile flour. We don’t take as much advantage of the edible resources provided by these trees as we could, but certainly the birds, squirrels, visiting deer, foxes and coyote do.
5. Play space – trees create a wonderful natural play-scape in any yard, garden or property. Many of the ones in our yard are too mature to have branches down low for climbing on, but their trunks are so large that they’re great fun for playing tag, hide and seek and other games around.
6. Shelter – even animals that don’t use trees specifically to live in, still need the shelter their leaves or needled branches provide. They’re used by small animals for shelter from the elements, as well as shelter from predators. And larger animals – coyote, foxes, raptors and others – make use of the shelter both from the elements, as well as to avoid being seen while hunting by their prey (everyone needs to make a living…)
7. Firewood – we don’t burn pine in our stove, but our big, old oak in the front of the property lost a few large limbs during the October snowstorm that were big enough to cut up and put aside for next winter.
8. Sticks for our dogs – We’ve had two dogs since moving into our house, and although they’ve both passed on, I know we’ll be adopting another German Shepherd before the year’s end. Both of our previous dogs were crazy about sticks. Thankfully, our property offers an endless supply!
9. Biodiversity – The average American household’s yard is an un-natural monoculture that supports very little life, and almost no diversity. We have a chunk of open space for playing and gardening in, and let our native (or at least, local) wildflowers, mosses, grasses and other greenery grow as they will (this drastically decreases the need for watering). We just keep it trimmed to a managable level. But the trees add a diversity to our property (and everyone elses’) that we wouldn’t get otherwise – see the list in #3.
10. Carbon cycling – I’m getting a bit more technical here, but stay with me. Most of us are familiar (at least broadly) with photosynthesis – plants taking in carbon dioxide (among other things) and releasing oxygen. If having house plants in your home contributes to the air purity you breath in, consider how critical big trees are to our overall air quality.
11. Compost – the leaves and needles that fall from the trees every year add greatly to our compost, and I make heavy use of our pine needles specifically as mulch in our gardens. Those that we don’t collect break down and contribute to the critical nutrients in the soil on the rest of our property.
12. Water filtration – one of my favorite educational resources, Hands-On Nature(produced by the fine folks at VINS) states that during the hot summer months, a large oak tree may release as much as 300 gallons of water into the atmosphere in a day. That water came from the ground, and if you live anywhere near a street, and/or keep cars on your driveway, most of the chemicals that we put into our cars get washed into our ground water eventually. All plants act as natural filters, but given their size, trees filter water at a much higher rate than plants and grasses.
13. Aesthetic and intrinsic value – these are hard to measure and even harder to rationally explain but there’s no doubt that natural places (and things) offers value, simply through their existance regardless of how they are – or aren’t – used.
I know there are many more ways trees provide for us – what do you get from the trees around you? Share in the comments below to help add to the list!
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