Trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we breathe. In so doing they extract the carbon and become carbon sinks. Roots and leaves as well as stems/branches store the carbon.
If there are enough trees, the carbon levels in the atmosphere will decrease thereby reducing the climate warming potential. However trees also decrease other airborne pollutants such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, but not only that, they also filter the air by removing dust resulting in better air quality which reduces asthma and allergies. Of course any other plant that photosynthesizes has the same effect but not to the same extent as they have far fewer leaves e.g. grasses.
However trees also increase water quality as they slow down storm water runoff which then allows the water to soak into the ground. They also reduce erosion which results in less silt particles being blown into rivers and dams. Water which has soaked into the ground is filtered and therefore will be released slowly as clean water into rivers and streams.
Trees provide shade by restricting the amount of sunlight reaching the ground which therefore reduces the heat. But trees release water into the environment in the form of water vapor through transpiration through leaves, which produces a cooling effect. The leaves also absorb some of the sun’s heat – its cooler under a tree and the picture below alone shows the value of shade. Shade reduces the risk of skin cancers from harmful ultra-violet radiation. In the shade of a tree is where people meet and socialize.
However, because leaves reduce the speed of the rain falling in a forest and also shield the forest from strong winds, hail and rain, it will be warmer under the trees. Very much like a thatched building – cool in summer and warm in winter. Thus trees work all year round by moderating the extremes in temperatures.
Trees are being used more and more in the cities to reduce the heat island effect caused by the pavements, roads and all the buildings. Heat islands absorb the heat from the sun during the day and then radiate the heat at night thus keeping the temperature up.
Below ground, the roots hold the soil and help increase the ground water supply and increase soil nitrogen from leguminous trees. They also fight erosion and landslides by holding the soil together. The Eastern Highlands had a drastic erosion situation caused by the lack of trees during Cyclone Idai. Trees absorb and store rainwater thereby reducing runoff and sediment deposit after storms. This will reduce the amount of chemicals going into streams and rivers.
The leaves make compost which acts as a mulch, enrich the soil, slow down runoff and therefore retain the water for the trees and grass.
Trees provide animal fodder in the form of leaves, flowers, pods and fruit. Man also enjoys many of the fruits and edible leaves. Many life forms use the tree as their home which improves pest control as they attract toads, lizards, birds and spiders which prey on crop-eating insects. The leaves that have fallen also attract insect life and their predators. Trees maintain and even increase biodiversity.
Many trees have medicinal qualities which are used by the pharmaceutical industry to manufacture drugs. N’angas also use many medicinal parts of trees and herbs to treat people. Trees affect us psychologically as a result of the relaxed, comfortable feeling experienced when walking in a forest or woodland area. Stress levels are diminished.
The scents and aromas from trees also create a positive emotional response. Man is naturally attracted to the trees for camping, hiking, birdwatching, picnicking and for socializing. Trees hold cultural and spiritual value.
Wood was the very first fuel used for cooking and heating and is still very much in use today. Trees provide timber for the building trade, for making furniture, manufacturing tools, sporting equipment and many household items. They also provide firewood, charcoal, poles for building, bark rope & string. Paper is made from trees. Trees also provide bee-keeping and honey production opportunities.
The value of a home is increased if trees are present and the sentimental value of a special tree is simply immeasurable. How many trees are planted to commemorate a special event?
In conclusion, trees beautify our surroundings, purify our air and water, act as sound barriers, manufacture precious oxygen, store carbon and maintain biodiversity. They help us save energy through their cooling shade in summer and their wind reduction in winter.
We should be planting trees at every opportunity and safeguarding them for our very existence. Trees have many uses and can be harvested in a sustainable manner.