27 Facts About Trees and Forests

Meaghan Weeden | December 7, 2021 | 7 min read

27 facts fresh from the forest

Forests are complex living worlds composed of intertwined layers of life and stretching across massive, diverse landscapes, blanketing our planet with swaths of green. They’re also nature’s great providers, pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it via photosynthesis, filtering and absorbing air pollutants, releasing clean oxygen for us to breathe, providing habitat and food for wildlife, stabilizing soils, growing food and medicine, protecting us from harmful UV rays, acting as natural air conditioners, securing our freshwater supplies, and amongst many other benefits!

As such, the importance of trees and forests in our lives cannot be overstated — from cooling our climate to delivering water deep inland, their roots touch everything. From ancient times to today, humans have depended on trees and forests for food, shade, and shelter. As a result, we all share a deep, natural connection to trees.

Ready to learn some specific reasons why trees are awesome? Here are 27 interesting facts about forests and the impacts of deforestation around the world:

herbal medicine

1. More than 60% of anticancer drugs originate from natural sources

That’s right: rainforest plants are used in some of the world’s most important, life-saving medicines. More discoveries are made every year, but many rely on access to healthy forests.

tropical waterfall lush forest

2. 1/4 of all modern medicines come from tropical forest plants, including 2/3 of all cancer-fighting drugs

As well as saving people’s lives, these medicinal plants are worth a staggering US$108 billion a year. 

forest in the rain

3. Trees redistribute up to 95% of the water they absorb

When it rains, they absorb stormwater into their roots and leaves, reducing erosion and flooding. Later, their leaves release it back into the air through transpiration, producing a powerful cooling effect that affects local microclimates. 

tree shadow on grass

4. 1 Tree is equivalent to 2 central air conditioners

Trees reduce the need for carbon emissions from heating and cooling by helping to regulate air temperature. Well placed trees can reduce air conditioning costs by 30% and heating costs by as much as 50%.

forest island fall colors

5. Forests Cover 31% of the Global land area

The total forest area is 4.06 billion hectares, and approximately 1/2 of that forest area is relatively intact. Around 1/3 of that is primary forest, or forests with no visible indications of human activities and ecological processes that are not significantly disturbed. 

tree frog rainforest biodiversity

6.  Tropical rainforests cover less than 3% of Earth's area, yet they are home to more 1/2 of our planet's terrestrial animal species

And it’s estimated that one hectare (2.47 acres) can contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of higher plants.

deforestation lush primary forest

7. We Lost a Football Pitch of Primary Rainforest Every 6 Seconds in 2019

Nearly a third of that loss, 3.8 million hectares, occurred within humid tropical primary forest, areas of mature rainforest that are especially important for biodiversity and carbon storage.

car driving through dense forest

8. It takes 460 trees to absorb the annual CO2 emissions of a single car

Trees can absorb an average of 22 pounds of CO2 per year for the first 20 years of life. A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year — so it stands to reason that we would need to plant 460 trees to offset average transportation impact. 

mist rising off of mountain forest

9. It requires 7 to 8 mature trees to provide the oxygen for one person each year

Trees release oxygen when they use solar energy to create glucose from carbon dioxide and water. They use some of that oxygen when they break some of the glucose back down to power their metabolisms. But on average, they produce more oxygen than they use up — which is great for us!

GET THE FREE TREE FACTS GUIDE!

Want to share what you've learned about trees?

Enter your email below and we'll send you a free digital guide filled with facts about trees. Spread awareness about the importance of trees by sharing this with your friends, family, or classroom.

Why Trees Matter Poster
bird biodiversity tree branch

10. Adding a single tree to an open pasture can increase bird biodiversity from almost zero species to as high as 80

As one tree is joined by others to form a stand, biodiversity will gradually grow. Once the stand approaches 100% forest cover, endangered and at-risk species like large predators and deep forest birds begin to appear, building species richness.

aerial view palm oil plantation

11.  Although the planet lost more than 1.33 million square kilometers between 1982 and 2016 mostly in the tropics, we gained about 3.5 million square kilometers of tree cover elsewhere (mostly in the northern hemisphere)

But it comes with a catch. These new trees, many growing in tree plantations, are not a perfect replacement for rich and diverse primary forests.

evergreen sapling boreal forest russia

12. The total forest area globally is 4.06 billion hectares, or approximately 5,000m2 (or 50 x 100m) per person

But forests are not equally distributed around the globe. More than 1/2 of the world’s forests are found in only 5 countries (the Russian Federation, Brazil, Canada, the United States of America and China) and 2/3 (66 percent) of forests are found in 10 countries.

deforestation mountainside

13. The area of primary forest worldwide has decreased by over 80 million hectares since 1990

Primary forests, especially in the tropics and savannahs where deforestation is particularly intense, are old growth forests teeming with biodiversity, which is lost when these areas are cleared. 

tropical deforestation cattle

14. Agricultural expansion continues to be the main driver of deforestation and forest degradation and the associated loss of forest biodiversity

Large-scale commercial agriculture (primarily cattle ranching and cultivation of soybean and oil palm) accounted for 40% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2010, and local subsistence agriculture for another 33%.

rushing river forest cliffs

15. BETWEEN 2015 AND 2020, THE RATE OF DEFORESTATION WAS ESTIMATED AT 10 MILLION HECTARES PER YEAR

This is down from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s. And while this is good news, we’re still losing forests at a blistering rate — and with evidence that climate change is gathering momentum across the globe, we can’t afford to keep losing them. 

evergreen leaf close up

16. There are over 60,000 tree species across the globe

The majority of tree species are angiosperms with enclosed seeds and broad leaves that usually change color and die every fall. They include oaks, maples and dogwoods and are deciduous. Gymnosperm trees, or those with unenclosed seeds, include species like pine, cedar, spruce and fir and are usually evergreen.

tall pines forest sky

17. Nearly half of all tree species (45%) are members of just 10 families

These families are, in order of magnitude, Leguminosae, Rubiaceae, Myrtaceae, Lauraceae, Euphorbiaceae, Malvaceae, Melasomataceae, Annonaceae, Arecaceae and Sapotaceae. 

mountain ash berries europe

18. Nearly 58% of all tree species are single-country endemics

This means that they are specific to only one area. Endemic tree species are particularly threatened by deforestation, because if they are completely wiped out from an area and do not exist anywhere else, they’re likely to become extinct. 

lone tree field sunset

19. The colonization of land by plants between 425 and 600 million years ago — and the eventual spread of forests — helped create a breathable atmosphere...

with enough oxygen to support humans and the other oxygen-dependent life forms we share the planet with.

cacao pods forest product

20. 1.6 billion people depend on forest resources for their livelihoods and most of them (1.2 billion) use trees on farms to generate food and cash

For those living in poverty, trees provide an important safety net if crops fail or diseases sweep the land, preventing heads of households from working. 

cuban man collecting fuelwood

21. An estimated 880 million people spend part of their time collecting fuelwood or producing charcoal

And in many countries in the developing world, people draw on fuelwood to meet as much as 90% of their energy requirements. As you might imagine, this contributes to deforestation, and is part of why it’s so important to include local communities in reforestation projects.

indigenous girl mexico

22. Areas managed by indigenous peoples (approximately 28% of the world’s land surface) include some of the most ecologically intact forests and many hotspots of biodiversity

That’s because indigenous peoples hold to their traditional ways of life and draw on ancestral knowledge to tread softly in the natural world. 

national forest river

23. Globally, 18% of the world’s forest area, or more than 700 million hectares, fall within legally established protected areas such as national parks, conservation areas and game reserves

In a recent study, it was found that people are paying an estimated 8 billion visits a year to these areas — greater than the total global population. 

black forest germany

24. The largest share of forest in protected areas is found in South America (31%) and the lowest in Europe (5%)

This is in part due to historically heavy settlement in Europe, logging, and agriculture, as well as less total land area. 

fog rising rainforest

25. Tropical tree cover loss is now causing more emissions every year than 85 million cars would over their entire lifetime

If tropical deforestation were a country, it would rank third in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, only behind China and the United States of America. In fact, tropical forests are net carbon emitters due to deforestation. 

glowing phytoplankton

26. The Amazon contributes 20% of the oxygen produced on land via photosynthesis. In contrast, phytoplankton produce a staggering 70% of Earth’s oxygen

For this reason, it may make more sense to call the Amazon Earth’s air conditioner, rather than its lungs. 

forest floor close up

27. Forests currently absorb 30% of all CO2 emissions

Crucially, a majority of this carbon resides in forest soils, anchored by networks of symbiotic roots, fungi and microbes. Because of this, forests are typically considered carbon sinks, or places that absorb more carbon than the release.  

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most
Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

Plant Trees Where They're Needed Most

As the need for reforestation is global and ever-changing, we feature where trees are most needed now. For Treecember, we're planting trees that support a global forest fire recovery fund. Learn more

With your help, we will:

  • Reforest lands damaged by record-setting fires
  • Support healthy habitat for iconic biodiversity
  • Plant tree species that will help reduce future fire impact
  • This holiday season, we’re planting trees in areas around the world that have been severely affected by forest fires and aren't able to recover a healthy ecosystem on their own. The most common naturally-caused wildfires occur during droughts or dry weather, and under these circumstances, trees and other vegetation are converted to flammable fuel. Human-caused forest fires can be a result of various activities like unregulated slash and burn agriculture, equipment failure or engine sparks, and discarded cigarettes.

    After wildfires, reforestation is essential in areas where the fire intensity burned off available seed supply within the soil, and/or where there are not enough healthy trees still growing and producing new seeds nearby. Reforestation starts once professional assessments have been made to determine where human intervention would be the most ecologically beneficial. Help restore these vital ecosystems by planting a tree. 🌿
  • Every year, forest fires are increasing in size and severity, damaging vital ecosystems and creating a need for millions of trees. Some major consequences of forest fires include significant loss of wildlife, loss of vegetation, soil erosion, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

    With so much fire damage, reforestation is essential to catalyze the environmental recovery process. The trees are carefully planted to prevent invasive species from colonizing burn scars and restore quality habitat for native biodiversity. One Tree Planted is connecting with on-the-ground partners to establish viable reforestation projects when the recently affected regions are ready for planting. This fund will contribute to planting projects in British Columbia, Idaho, Ghana, Portugal, and beyond. Let's get to work! 🌲
  • A personalized tree certificate (see gallery) to say thanks for your donation. We'll also send you updates about this project, so you can track the impact your trees are having on the community and environment.
  • To maximize the impact of your donation, our partners on the ground will determine the most appropriate species of tree and shrubs. We only plant native tree species that will restore the local ecosystem, re-establish wildlife habitat, and reduce the likelihood of future fires.

Sign Up to our Newsletter

Get good news, reforestation updates, planting event information, and more delivered right to your inbox.