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In Awe of Trees

By: Sandra Nelson; Images Sandy DeFoe

The 1 Trillion Tree Project  was in the news again last week. Although I personally believe that solving climate change issues is more complex than just planting trees, reading the article made me think about the importance of replacing the trees that we have lost over the past few years. Replanting our missing trees and adding some new ones is the right thing to do  -- not just for us but also for our immediate neighborhood, for our community at large and for the entire planet.

children planting tress

The correct choice and placement of trees, whether deciduous or evergreen, around a home can mean substantial financial rewards for the homeowner. The shade of well-placed deciduous trees can help cool a property during the heat of the summer. In winter, the bare branches are open to the warm sunlight. Depending on the area, the benefits offered by trees can result in a 15% to 25% savings on energy costs. When selling a house, mature trees combined with attractive landscaping consistently increases property values by as much as 10% to 19%. 

trees over house summer

trees over house winter


Several research studies over the past few years have shown that mature trees have a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Studies have shown that consistent access to nature in the form of green spaces with trees, significantly lowers residents’ stress levels and increases positive attitudes. The same studies report that people feel safer in neighborhoods with well -maintained plantings of trees. Lower crime rates, especially in low-income neighborhoods, also correlate to the presence of green spaces with mature trees.  

tree lined streets


Mature trees with broad, overhead canopies help keep streets and sidewalks throughout the community cool. While individual pedestrians may enjoy strolling under the canopy of their branches, there are broader benefits too. Shade trees help slow the rate of aging of paved surfaces such as streets, sidewalks and parking lots, reducing yearly maintenance costs. 

tree lined street


Trees help keep urban communities healthy. Climate change is pushing temperatures to new highs; heat related illnesses and deaths are on the increase, especially in larger, urban areas where Heat Islands are prevalent. Last year, daytime Heat Island temperatures across the country were documented to be at least 7 degrees higher than surrounding areas while their nighttime temperatures averaged up to 5 degrees higher. Shade trees are proven to significantly reduce temperatures in urban Heat Islands (some studies report as much as 9 degrees) by absorbing sunlight and by cooling the air through transpiration, helping to reduce the physical strain on residents.

trees in New York City


Trees are a key element for clean air and for clean water systems. The right trees help to clean the air of pollutant gases and particulates and to sequester tons of carbon, giving the planet cleaner air to breathe. Here in the United States alone, our existing urban trees capture 22.8 million tons of carbon each year. They currently store over 700 million tons of carbon each year and are instrumental in the fight against climate change.

tree lined street


Just as they help clean our air, trees help in water management. Worldwide, water runoff in both is a serious issue facing our planet’s bodies of water. Water that moves across impervious surfaces has the potential of picking up trash, dirt, chemicals, fertilizers, sewage and dozens of other types of toxins which it then carries to both manmade and naturally occurring water systems. Whether it's from the city’s water system or a nearby creek or stream, the polluted runoff will eventually reach one of the planet’s major bodies of water where it eventually begins the destruction of the area’s ecosystems.

algae bloom


For years, we have known that trees help slow water runoff and reduce water pollution. Tree canopies catch and store water, releasing it back into the atmosphere before it even hits the ground. Tree roots and leaf litter work together as filtration systems, working hard to clean runoff of some pollutants begore they begin to make their way into the groundwater. 

tree roots and leaf litter


Now, we are learning that some species of fast growing trees with deep root systems are masters at efficiently and cost effectively removing toxic chemicals both from the ground and from wastewater. Through a process known as phytoremediation, pollutants and contaminants such as toxic metals are removed, degraded, or stabilized, effectively cleaning the groundwater and making it safe for humans and wildlife.

fall trees


On the surface, adding a single tree to your landscape may not seem like a particularly significant action. After all, what difference can one tree in one tiny corner of the world make? As it turns out, the decision to plant a tree --  or perhaps several --  is one of the most important ones you can make for yourself, your community and the planet. 



Join us next week as we get some advice from Embassy designers on choosing and installing trees.