Gardening: Trees—Our Life Support System

By Betty Harris

Over the holidays we were invited to celebrate with friends and thus ended up spending a few hours with some really nice people, eating too much and talking and laughing a lot. As always happens there have to be bathroom breaks and thus I found on the back of the door a long list of things to do to make one’s life better. Reading down I came to one that stuck me immediately as a truly great idea. It said, “Plant a tree on your birthday.”

A little light went on in the brain and grew into a much bigger one as I mulled that one over. For years I’ve been a supporter of the Arbor Foundation and make regular donations so they can plant trees. Recently at one of the Community Conversations events we showed a movie titled Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home. Since my birthday is coming up soon a lot of little pieces of the puzzle fell into place. At the moment I’m researching to see what trees are natives to Colorado and this particular part of the state with the proviso that they not be one that must be planted by some stream to survive. And I’m not looking for an evergreen either simply because their falling needles make it the soil too acidic which means nothing much grows under them.

Understanding that Colorado is in a drought situation, although not as bad yet as California, that it is predicted to be prolonged and worsen, and understanding the importance of trees to clear air, clean water and to calming environments it seems appropriate to consider what we could do to help ourselves maintain our Life Support System – Nature. One doesn’t have to be a scientist to see the impact that trees have on humans and other living things. One doesn’t have to be an arborist to understand the importance of trees. Considering also that the ash trees we have growing around all over town may soon be endangered by the emerald ash borer, it would not seem to be the right time to plant more of those. A cursory search for native Colorado trees showed a lot of evergreens and trees I am not that familiar with which also seem to grow along streams and creeks. Not what I was thinking of so the search goes on.

Meanwhile perhaps it would be good to review just how trees benefit us, how they create a Life Support System that makes it possible for us to live in comfort while we are here. Trees provide a great deal of benefits to humans and other living creatures just in the process of living and being. A reminder from basic botany might be in order. Or just remember that trees breathe in and out as we do but without lungs. They breathe in moisture and carbon dioxide and breathe out what we need – oxygen. All the while they are taking up nutrients from the soil and from fungi and soil animals to help create leaves which shade and cool our surroundings. These same leaves then return organic matter and nutrients to the soil which feeds the same fungi and soil animals. Everything really is connected!

Trees have been used in the west as wind breaks for over 100 years, especially on the plains. This wind break reduces the drying effects of wind around a house or barn while slowing the wind and wind noise.

Trees take moisture from the soil and from the air. And when it rains and snows the tree takes moisture down into the soil where it eventually makes its way to aquifers and water tables, creeks and rivers and on to the seas.

Trees add color and texture to our surroundings, value to our property, shade to ourselves and our neighborhoods. Trees make people feel good and improves neighborhoods and the people in them.

We can help build our own Life Support System by planting trees at any time but if we could find a way to create a ritual of planting a tree on our birthday every year we could rapidly increase the benefit to ourselves and our children.

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