Trees have always been an intrinsic part of our lives, serving as sources of food, shelter, employment and much more.
However, the many ways that trees nurture us – from the sense of pride we feel when we plant them to the benefits of simply being around them – are not always obvious.
Although the numerous benefits of trees have been widely known for decades, they come into sharper focus as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we imagine what life will be like after restrictions are lifted, many of us will need the physical and mental nourishment that trees have provided for millennia.
Here are just some examples of how trees nurture us, and how they can continue to play a role in our collective recovery.
Trees nurture children from an early age
Do you remember the first time you planted, climbed or even noticed a tree? From the feeling of earth in your hands to watching a tree that you planted grow, these early memories can shape our attitudes to nature and ourselves.
Today, research is going further to support the positive influence that trees can have on children. One study from the United Kingdom showed that outdoor learning in forested areas can help young children develop vital skills such as negotiation, resilience, independence as well as a sense of social and environmental responsibility.
In addition, previous research has shown that children who spend time in natural outdoor environments experience a reduction in attention fatigue. In particular, children with ADHD may experience fewer symptoms after spending time in these settings.
Trees nourish us from the inside out
By growing edible fruit and nuts, trees are a key food source for humans and animals. However, trees can sustain much more than just our appetite!
Studies have consistently shown that spending time among trees can work wonders for our mental health – through forest bathing or simply taking a short stroll.
At a time when our ability to focus can be hindered, walking in nature can also help to restore our attention spans and help us feel grounded.
Trees improve our physical health
The power of trees in capturing carbon and purifying the air plays a key role in our sustainability goals. That, in turn, can have a powerful impact on our physical health.
In addition, neighbourhoods with more trees have been shown to have a lower prevalence of obesity.
Trees can even play a role in speeding up healing times and influencing better outcomes for people who are ill or injured. According to one study, patients with a window view of trees can recover significantly faster and with fewer complications than patients without access to such views.
Given the incredible capacity that trees have to reduce air pollution, the knock-on health benefits make sense. In 2010 alone, trees in 86 Canadian cities removed 16,500 tonnes of air pollution!
Trees help us to reconnect with our communities
The writer Richard Mabey, once said “To be without trees would, in the most literal way, to be without our roots.”
Indeed, trees are crucial in shaping our sense of place and our connection to our local communities and cultures. This is especially true in urban areas, where the presence of more trees has been shown to foster a greater sense of belonging.
A larger number of trees in our communities can also lead to feeling safer. One study has indicated that a 10% increase in tree canopy can lead to a 12% decrease in neighbourhood crime. In addition, tree-lined streets can encourage safer driving as they make roads seem narrower.
Given their long lifespan, trees tend to become local historical monuments themselves – adding to our sense of identity.