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Where Trees Come From

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

-Chinese Proverb

This is a popular proverb that has been making the rounds for the past couple of years. It works because it tugs on people’s guilt about the environment, and it gives them a simple action that can relieve that guilt and make a positive contribution towards climate change.

If humans were simply to plant 10 billion trees in the next ten years, climate change would be solved and we could continue onwards with our lives.

This is a neat and tidy belief that has been perpetuated by a raft of companies and governments all dedicated to planting trees precisely because planting a million trees is a relatively achievable project that can be done in a day, and it’s great PR.

I am a gardener in a public park and I am in charge of the health of about 2000 newly planted trees. Whenever I see these articles or videos about planting trees, I always wonder, who is going to take care of a million newly-planted trees? Well, trees take care of themselves, right?

They can, given a little help from their friends. As biology has become molecular and ecology has had time to observe longer timescales, scientists have begun to unlock the secrets of how the animal, plant, bacteria, and fungi kingdoms work together for the benefit of all. Let’s take a small look at how that happens.

A bird eats a fruit and flies to a thicket to safely digest. It deposits the fruit’s seed in a protective layer of bacteria, AKA poop, that keeps the seed moist and prevents harmful bacteria or fungus from destroying the seed. Seasons change and the thicket and trees around drop their leaves, covering the seed in another protective layer of mulch.

Snow and rain push the seed underground, and when the time is right, usually in spring or during the rainy season, the seed sends down roots. Almost immediately, the roots establish a relationship with the mycorrhizal network of fungi that live underground.

The fungi provide essential nutrients to the seedling, helping it to grow taller and fuller, and in return, the plant will give excess carbohydrates generated from photosynthesis to the fungi.

With this underground network of reciprocity in full swing, the seedling will grow into a sapling. The thicket will protect it from strong winds and browsing by herbivores, and if the tree lacks nutrients or is attacked by pests, it can send distress signals through the mycorrhizal network to other trees around it, who will send it nutrients and compounds to ensure its survival.

In every healthy forest ecosystem, there are “mother trees” that are the oldest and strongest ones around, and it has been proven that they dole out nutrients to other trees throughout the forest, even those of different species.

These mother trees are not only working for their survival, or the survival of their offspring, but for the health of the entire ecosystem.

Unfortunately, in many places these trees are selectively logged because they are the biggest and healthiest trees around. And in cases where total reforestation is happening, there is often no mycorrhizal network to help young trees become established.

So, young trees, freshly planted and suffering from transplant shock, need someone or something to help them out so they can reach their full potential as carbon-locking, food-providing, air-purifying, water-conserving beings.

In many cases, that potential is never reached, but with a little commitment and a change in mindset, humans can fulfill that role and ensure that we not only plant a billion trees, but care for them, too.

Humans for Abundance is committed to this cause, which is why we empower people who live in nature to care for it’s well-being.

The easiest way to care for a young tree is to mimic the natural systems that do that anyways, which is why we focus on agroecology, soil biodiversity, and the preservation of mature trees.

These commitments are straightforward, whereas the mindset change can be a little trickier.

Humans for Abundance is just as committed to fostering a cultural shift towards care of nature as we are in empowering individuals to care for nature. We believe that everyone lives in nature, and is part of nature, and we can all do our part to ensure that all life has a chance to thrive on this planet.

How someone chooses to do their part is up to each individual, but like the mother trees, and the fungal networks, and the bacteria, birds and thickets, everyone has a role to play.

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