×

Between the Rows: There’s way more to trees than their beauty

  • Visitors to Chanticleer Garden stroll through the woodland, escaping from the sweltering heat that June day. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/PAT LEUCHTMAN


Friday, February 02, 2018

There are many questions about whether climate change, the warming of the atmosphere and oceans, is responsible for the recent violent weather. The number of particularly violent storms seems to be increasing. There was Hurricane Katrina in 2005; a 2008 storm in Haiti that wiped out 70 percent of the island’s crops; Sandy in 2012 was the worst storm to ever hit New York City; and hurricanes Maria and Harvey in Puerto Rico and the Houston area caused billions of dollars in damages, not to mention the human cost. Is global warming causing these storms?

While we all have to acknowledge that theories of global warning are multi-faceted and complicated, we also have to think about the different levels of responsibility and cooperation. We hear about the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement signed by many nations, but never ratified by the U.S. Congress. Fortunately, states and cities can make and pass their own laws and regulations about issues like the use of fossil fuels. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy have stated that the biggest natural climate solution is more trees.

Then, we come to what our cities and towns can do. We are fortunate that Greenfield has a program to plant street trees. In fact, I am among several other residents on Beech Street who are working with the Department of Public Works (DPW) to put more trees on Beech Street. The town has a certain number of trees it can plant every year. Residents can contact the Parks and Forestry division of the DPW and ask to have their name put on the tree request list. Timing of the planting will depend on how many requests are already on the list. The town will then plant the tree on the tree strip if it is of adequate size, or on the resident’s lawn. It will also keep the tree watered throughout the first year.

Greenfield also has a Tree Committee, a nonprofit volunteer organization promoting an urban forest in town and educating residents of the importance and value of trees. Last fall, I drove up and down Haywood Street admiring the new street trees that were recently planted. The Committee works in cooperation with the DPW. Under founder Carolyn Maclellan’s leadership, Greenfield was designated as a “Tree City” in 2002 by the Arbor Day Foundation. It still carries that distinction.

You can learn more about the Greenfield Tree Committee at: www.greenfieldtreecommittee.org. It was on their website that I was introduced to the fascinating Citizen Forester Newsletter, which provides some really good reading.

I am proud to say that I volunteer with a group of women renovating the Energy Park gardens at the end of Miles Street. I have not been part of any tree planting there, but I have worked at maintaining some of the existing trees like the hawthorns, with their red fall berries, and the line of sassafras trees that rise over a bed of blooming asters in the fall. The trees, shrubs and flowers in the Energy Park are mostly natives that attract birds as well as pollinators, like bees and butterflies. It is possible that a few more trees will be added.

So after all this talk about climate change, and the interest of various groups to plant more trees, we might ask, “What it is that trees do that might affect climate change and the environment?”

We have all heard and read reports of the rising amount of carbon in our atmosphere. Trees absorb and store carbon, CO2, and then release oxygen. Trees can also absorb polluting gasses like nitrogen oxides and ozone. According to a New York Times article, “One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year.”

Landscape architects and designers know the impact of the careful placement of trees on a domestic landscape. Trees can be planted where they will throw shade on a house and cool it, saving on air conditioner costs. Trees can also be planted as a windbreaker, thus keeping the house warmer in winter.

Trees shade and cool hard surfaces like driveways and parking lots. Most of us have wilted considerably as we walked across a sizzling parking lot on a hot summer day, radiating that heat into the atmosphere. There is a standard that says 50 percent of paving should be shaded. I don’t see a lot of parking lots that include trees, but I am happy to see more (small) parking lots that are shaded by solar panels.

Trees break rainfall and keep hard rains from causing erosion on hills and slopes. They also help protect our rivers and streams because they filter the water that could otherwise carry pollutants.

There are many ways that trees affect the environment. They can also affect our interior environments by calming us with their beauty. Neighborhoods that have green and shady trees have been shown to have less violence. Businesses find that the more trees and landscaping around their stores, the greater foot traffic and profits. Studies have shown that hospital patients heal faster if they can look out at greenery.

I give thanks to our town trees every day!

Pat Leuchtman has written and gardened since 1980. She lives in Greenfield. Readers can leave comments at her website: www.commonweeder.com.