The first Friday in March (the 7th) is when Tennessee celebrates Arbor Day (last Friday in April for Kentucky and Virginia), a time to appreciate and celebrate trees. The dictionary defines a tree as “a woody perennial plant having a distinct trunk with branches and foliage at some distance above the ground.” This simple description falls short of what a tree is to humans and other life forms. What is a tree? Let me count the ways:
Beauty: A tall, stately tree is handsome and inspiring whether it is a bare silhouette in winter or dressed in glorious fall colors. The leaf, bark, buds and wood of each species is unique, and our area is blessed with more species than anywhere but a tropical rain forest.
Resource: A list of useful things made from trees is long. The newspaper you hold in your hand, the apple you packed for lunch, the skeleton of your home, all came from a living tree. You likely use a forest product hourly. A drive down the road is on tires made in part from tree sap. Brushing your teeth is enhanced from a buffing compound in the paste that is wood based.
Soil: Trees keeps the soil rich by recycling dead leaves and branches and raising its organic content. More importantly, trees keep soil in place via a massive root system that keeps it from washing away into rivers and streams. On our steep mountains this is especially important.
Home: To a multitude of wildlife, the forest is home and grocery store.
Playground: Picnicking, hiking, hunting, backpacking, geocaching, horseback riding and ORV use are some of the many ways folks use the forest for to relax and have fun.
Air: One of the true miracles a tree can do is take carbon dioxide waste that we and our cars breath out, mix it with water, make wood out of it, and then exhale oxygen as a waste product. Such a perfect cycle had to be heaven sent. Mankind is unfortunately upsetting the balance by putting much more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than can be consumed by plants. What this means to our planets’ future is still under debate, but sounds like we should be planting more trees.
So what is a tree? Everyone creates their own definition by the ways they use it. Whatever yours is, don’t take them for granted. If you have any space in your yard or farm, do the world a favor by planting a tree or an acre of trees. In a modern world where things humans do is often detrimental in some way, tree planting is a universal good thing.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.