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When I look at trees, I am in awe of their beauty. I marvel at their shape, sculptural features or the color and texture of their leaves. I'm taken aback at the symphony of hues that color the landscape in the fall. With so much to admire visually, I often fail to appreciate trees for their greatest gift; one more important then even their aesthetic qualities.
Trees have been called the lungs of the planet, and for good reason. They play a vital role in helping to control air pollution by taking in carbon dioxide, storing the carbon and releasing oxygen during photosynthesis. Trees are the real workhorses in this department. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, trees absorb enough carbon dioxide on each acre, over a year's time, to equal the amount you produce when you drive your car 26,000 miles.
In addition, tree leaves remove harmful chemicals such as nitrogen oxides, airborne ammonia, some sulfur dioxide, and ozone. At the same time, they're cooling the air by releasing water vapor through their leaves in a process known as transpiration. Trees also serve as collection sites for dust and harmful man-made particulates so they can be washed to the ground and filtered by the earth.
When you consider that trees and other vegetation store such huge amounts of carbon and combine that with the reduction of carbon emissions they provide by decreasing energy use, the benefits are obviously compounded. And if that weren't enough, trees are instrumental in reducing the “heat island effect” that is created in urban areas by high concentrations of impervious surfaces such as buildings, roadways and sidewalks, which can significantly increase temperatures in those locations. Well positioned, appropriately chosen trees around your house can save between 20 to 25 percent in energy use a year compared to a wide-open landscape, according to data from the U.S. Forest Service.
And then there's the less obvious but equally important benefit of trees. Their canopies slow down the velocity of raindrops and the root system aids in soil infiltration to soak up water. Trees and shrubs mitigate storm water run off by actually storing rainfall on their leaves, in their branches and on the trunk. Water droplets are either held temporarily, falling to the ground later, or eventually evaporate into the air reducing runoff volume. This ability to intercept such large volumes of rainfall is especially valuable in slowing the effects of erosion.
So next time you're looking for that just-right gift for any occasion, give a tree to a friend or family member or even to yourself. Donate one to a school on Arbor Day or Earth Day or any day! I can't think of a better gift to give that looks so good, lasts so long and does so much. Now, if they could only invent kid's toys this way!