Ten amazing things you might not know about trees

March 22, 2021
By Eko Diena in 

Since yesterday was the International Day of Forests, we thought it might be a nice moment to take a look at a few amazing things about trees that a lot of people might not realise.

Sure, we might all know that they trees absorb CO2, produce oxygen, stop soil erosion, prevent flooding, provide shade and shelter for many other species. But there are so many more really amazing things to know about trees, we don’t normally do 'Ten things' kind of lists, but this is an exception…

1. Trees move to escape danger (like climate change)

Ok, this is not Lord of the Rings, they don’t just pull themselves out of the ground and walk on their roots, but trees can move their population centres away from danger like climate changes that affect them. A study that looked at more than 80 species of tree between 1980 and 2015 showed that they moved towards areas with more rainfall, or away from areas that were growing much hotter. At around 16km in a decade it’s not fast but it’s very real.

2. They are diverse and most live in only one country

Trees are genetically diverse, with more complex DNA than humans. There are more than 60,000 species of tree on the planet and 58% of those species naturally grow only in area that is contained within one modern country.  

3. Trees never grow beyond their ability to support themselves

We’ve all heard the thing about how a goldfish kept in a small bowl will not grow too big. I have no idea if that is actually a fish fact or not, but it is true of trees. Trees do not grow bigger than the area allows and they are also able to cut back when they need to. In times of drought or other stress, trees will shed leaves, fruit, flowers, or even branches, they will pause repairing injured branches or damaged parts of the trunk and divert their energy to where it is most needed and to healthy growth.

4. They absorb much more than just CO2

Yes they capture carbon and that’s wonderful. They also filter large amounts of other toxic gases like nitrogen dioxide or sulphur dioxide and dramatically improve the air quality for everything living in the same ecosystem.

5. They never die of old age

Of course they don’t all live forever, but while humans and pretty much everything else on the planet (apart from some jellyfish) will eventually just pass away from old age, trees don’t. Typically, they are killed by weather inflicted injuries, disease, insects, or human activity. If they were alone on the plane they’d probably be pretty much immortal.

6. They keep the air cool

So, excess carbon emissions cause the atmosphere to heat up, trees help with that by soaking up CO2 but they also help to keep the air around them cool in another way. Trees absorb the sun’s radiation and release water into the air through their leaves. One study in 2019 found that tree canopy coverage of 40% could reduce air temperature in city parks by up to 5C.

7. They have healing powers

Apart from the fact that various trees contribute ingredients to many medicines, Aspirin for example, they also heal in much less explainable ways. Studies have shown time and time again that being around trees reduces our stress levels, and makes us feel happier and healthier, lowering blood pressure, boosting our immune system, helping with depression, improving sleep, and also reducing recovery times after surgery.

They have also been repeatedly shown to boost productivity, lower crime, increase house prices, and increase acts of community spirit and random kindness.

8. Trees talk and exchange things (with each other at least)

We love to communicate, we build networks to do it, from small social groups to the internet, and trees do something similar. They use their own underground mycorrhizal networks, made up of fungi in the soil to communicate about things like drought or disease and also to send water, carbon, and nutrients between themselves.

9. They can call for backup

When you have no movable limbs or toxic stings of your own then defense can be a bit tricky, but some trees work around this by getting someone else to do it for them. When certain species, like Apple trees, are under attack from parasites, they release compounds into the air to attract the predators of whatever is attacking them. Seems logical, if you can’t kill an insect yourself, then just call in something that eats it.

10. There are far, far fewer than there used to be

We all know this one, but maybe we don’t realise just how many fewer. Farming, cutting for timber, and other human activities mean that that there are actually about 46% less trees on the planet than there were at the beginning of the agricultural revolution, about 12,000 years ago.

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