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The Value of Trees

by Laurel Schiller and Dan Walton

If you do nothing else on your property, plant trees. A tree provides "green" height and breadth against your house. This is so important and so missing in many new developments. Nothing is as soulless here in Florida as loop after loop of new homes, new lawns, and a single, centrally placed palm with three fronds unless it is older houses in an established neighborhood of similar plantings.

Trees do more than a palm can. Palms can be a tropical accent feature, but do temperatures rise into the 90's and hover there for months. Proper tree shading can reduce air-conditioning costs. Seasonal folks and tourists can't believe anyone chooses to live in Florida during the summer. But nothing beats reading a good book on a quiet summer Florida afternoon on a tree-shaded lanai.

Trees do many other things too. One canopy tree supplies a family's supply of oxygen for a year. Trees remove carbon dioxide (the major greenhouse gas), trace metals, and other industrial pollutants from the air we breathe. Trees absorb rainwater from frequent intense summer storms. This holds moisture on your property and prevents storm water runoff. Storm water runoff carries soil, fertilizers, and other chemicals we use on our gardens and lawns off our property down storm drains and into our bays and estuaries. This causes algal blooms that cloud these waters and kill sea grasses. Without sea grasses young fish, crustaceans, and other aquatic life have no where to feed and hide while they grow larger.

Trees provide shelter, food and homes for urban wildlife. Many migratory bird species fly from the Caribbean Islands to the Carolinas resting and feeding in the pine canopy. Pines also support large nests created by eagles, ospreys, and great horned owls. Seeds from maples, sweetgums, elms, sugarberries, red cedars, and oaks are relished, predictable food sources for our backyard nesting species such as cardinals, northern mockingbirds and blue jays. Red bay and sweet bay magnolia trees provide larval food for various kinds of swallowtail butterflies.

Trees are long-lived so that planting one not only affects your property at present, but also can have an impact on the neighborhood and the environment well into the future. Dr. Thomas Fuller British physician and historian wrote in 1732 "He that plants trees loves others besides himself."

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