It seems like a silly, rather elementary question, but the answer may surprise you. Trees can do everything from making us feel better to keeping the earth at a stable temperature. Perhaps best of all, we can build tree houses in them and they make great playgrounds.
Here is a short list of some of the common benefits of trees:
1. They provide habitat. Trees provide livable habitat for many species of birds, mammals, amphibians and other creatures. This biodiversity, in turn, makes forests more resistant to disease, wildfires, floods and attacks by harmful insects and other organisms.
2. They give us oxygen. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store the carbon in carbohydrate molecules. They give off vital oxygen for humans and other animals to breathe.
3. Reduce noise pollution. Have you ever noticed that the noise inside a city park with a lot of trees is not as loud as the surrounding city where there are fewer trees? Just like carpet and furniture in a house, trees absorb sound waves in our cities and make them more pleasant. Trees also have a calming effect on children and adults.
4. Control erosion and runoff. Tree roots hold soil in place and prevent it from washing away after rains or high winds. This makes the soil better adapted to hold other plants and crops for human consumption. Trees also create space in the soil for water to move at a regular pace downward to the groundwater. Groundwater is a main source of drinking water.
5. Trees serve as wind breaks. Trees dampen the effect of wind.
6. Provide shade and reduce the “Heat Island” effect. Trees dissipate the amount of heat in areas with lots of concrete that absorb the sun’s heat energy.
7. Reduce heating and cooling costs. Having several trees around your home can shade your house and significantly reduce your heating costs in winter and cooling costs in the summer.
8. Increase property values. Large beautiful trees are attractive mainstays of houses with high value.
9. Reduce stress and increase happiness. Trees provide places for us to relax and reconnect with the natural world.
10. They give us medicine. Many of the common medicines that we use come from trees.The bark of willow trees contains salicylic acid, the main ingredient in aspirin. The Pacific yew tree contains ingredients that have been used to make Taxol, which is used to treat breast, ovarian and lung cancer.
11. They give us rain. Have you ever wondered why there is almost no rain in deserts? This is because there are no trees. Trees stabilize local weather patterns by playing an important role in the water cycle, which produces precipitation.
12. Recreation opportunities. Trees provide habitat for hunting, fishing, hiking, mountain biking and many other recreational activities.
13. Paper. Paper is made from trees.
14. Fruits. Most fruits grow on trees.
15. Rubber. The Para rubber tree is a primary source for natural rubber.
I have worked with trees for most of my life. Several years ago, I worked as a restoration technician for the Nature Conservancy in Hobe Sound, Florida. One day I was cutting down invasive Australian pine (not really a pine tree, it just looks like one) tree and my site boss told me to quickly stop the chainsaw after I cut the tree down and stick my ear the the cut stump. I could hear a faint sucking noise. This noise was this conductive tissue, xylem and phloem, closing up as a reaction to being cut. In this moment, I realized that trees are living beings that react to the environment just as animals do.