March 16, 2018 5 min read
Happy International Day of Forests! We like to think that every day is a day to honor and celebrate forests, but all the better if there’s an official day for it 😊
So let’s celebrate the wonders of forests and trees together! We’ll try to contain our excitement…
This day was created by the United Nations and celebrated on March 21st. Here’s how the UN summarizes the intention of International Day of Forests:
“This global celebration of forests provides a platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of woodlands and trees, and celebrate the ways in which they sustain and protect us.”
The functional benefits of forests to humanity and the planet are immense. Forests and trees store carbon, clean the air, filter water, improve local climates, provide shade, reduce noise pollution in urban areas, provide habitats and food for wildlife, and support local communities through resources such as fruits, nuts, leaves, and wood.
You can see our forest facts for more about that, but today we’d rather share a few of the more wondrous and little-known reasons why forests are worthy of our admiration.
1. Trees have a vast and intelligent underground network of communication.
You could call it the wood-wide web. The roots of trees have a symbiotic relationship with soil fungi, which act as conduits of information – such as by sending a warning that a tree is under attack from bark beetles – as well as scavengers for nutrients from surrounding soil – like phosphorous, nitrogen, or water.
In exchange for this service from mycelium, trees provide the fungi with delicious sugar made by photosynthesis. The fungal networks are so interconnected that ecologist Suzanne Simard, who pioneered some of this research into trees, calls forests a “cooperative system” and refers to them as “forest communities.”
2. Forests have “hubs” or “mother trees.”
That’s right, moms and dads and grandma trees. Just as we see in the social structures of human families, and organizational structures in businesses or governments, and even with the neural networks of the human brain itself, there are some trees in forests that are more connected hubs of resources and information.
PhD student Kevin Bailer conducted research in a Douglas Fir forest and found that not only were almost all of the trees in the forest connected, but that the oldest trees with the deepest root structures had the strongest mycorrhizal networks and hence the most access to nutrients and awareness of various environmental conditions.
Because it was also discovered that these trees have the ability to recognize and favor their own kin, or seedlings, they came to be called mother trees. How cool is that?
[Pictured left are the hubs within a forest. Image credit: e360 Yale]
3. Trees literally MAKE IT RAIN.
Fat Joe and Lil’ Wayne must have gotten their inspiration from trees, because trees are the original “make it rain” miracle-workers. Let’s start with your basic water cycle...
Water comes down, goes into the soil, and the tree sucks it up through the roots and trunk like a straw. It then releases most of the water that it doesn’t use in a process called transpiration, in which the water comes out through the leaves as water vapor and basically floats up to start condensing into clouds to eventually repeat the cycle. Additionally, forests that have a dense canopy have an excess of water in the leaves which never even make it to the ground, so that water is also evaporated upwards again.
Now here’s the really cool part: because we live in a dynamic and energetically unified world, clouds don’t just hover above individual trees, they move around! Clouds travel inland, so the ultimate rainfall could occur thousands of miles away from the forests that circulated that water upwards in the first place. It’s a beautiful rainy cycle.
4. Tree stumps are still alive and connected underground after a tree is cut down.
Stumps are not merely useless leftovers of dead trees. Depending on their size, age, and some other environmental factors, tree stumps can still be alive underground long after they’re no longer alive aboveground. How does this happen? Well, remember point 1 above about how trees live in communities? If the surrounding forest is healthy, neighbor trees will continue to pump sugar and nutrients to the stump to keep it alive.
But…. Why? This is where we can all learn a lesson from trees. Trees have evolved through survival based on collaboration and connection. Keeping the stump alive means keeping alive a flow of resources and information, and hence strengthens the overall network, increasing the likelihood of life and resilience in the entire tree community. Genius! Furthermore, tree stumps create food and homes for many insects, rodents, and other creatures, who, in turn, give back to the ecosystem in other ways.
5. Trees are the anchors of terrestrial life.
Think about it for a moment, what if there were no forests or trees? No forests, no habitats for wildlife, no water cycles, no healthy soil for food and agriculture, no clean air or water, nothing to stop harsh winds or mudslides, nothing to shade us from the heat of the sun. Ecosystems would collapse.
We don’t mean to bring you down on International Day of Forests! Just making a point that trees are not just a nice-to-have for life on Earth, they are vital to life itself in all forms.
Beyond ecology, trees are timeless sources of inspiration and spiritual fulfilment. Buddha experienced enlightenment by the Bodhi tree, and many cultures around the world have spiritual practices or origin stories related to certain kinds of trees.
Trees can teach us so many things about how to live in harmony. We need only to pay attention, to honor the forests of the world and the indigenous communities who most support them, and to do the good work of creating more healthy forests after so many have been cut down and lost.
Every second we continue to lose a football field full of trees. The seconds add up quickly, so let’s take a strategy queue from trees, and connect and collaborate to save existing forests and plant new ones!
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