Arborists & Urban Futures

Xuebing Du

An article by Clive Thompson we linked to in 2016 makes me wonder why today is the first time we are sharing his work since then. I remember reading a review of his book last year but did not see a fit with the themes we tend to focus on here. Urban trees,  for one example, feature in our pages frequently. And trees more broadly speaking have probably been featured more than any other topic due to our mission. So our appreciation to the Atlantic for publishing this, and an added thanks for the excellent photographic accompaniments:

Trees Are Time Machines

Arborists are planting trees today that must survive decades of global warming. The health, comfort, and happiness of city dwellers hang in the balance.

City trees lead difficult lives. A lot of things are trying to kill them, particularly the trees planted on sidewalks: Tightly compacted soil with high alkaline content makes it harder for them to absorb nutrients. Tiny plots of land admit very little rainwater. They’ve got dogs peeing on them, people dropping cigarette butts nearby, and cars belching pollution.

Xuebing Du

“We’re talking about trees that are very vulnerable,” says Navé Strauss, the head of street-tree planting for New York City. His team manages the planting of new trees on streets and public rights of way; there are more than 666,000 street trees in the city, and the team plants about 16,000 new ones annually. For decades, New York arborists have tended to prefer “tough,” hardy species that thrive well against adversity—such as the London planetree, which sports grayish bark and big, maple-like leaves that offer sidewalks tons of shade.

But lately, Strauss has been looking for trees that can handle an even tougher challenge: climate change.

Xuebing Du

In the past century, the United States has heated up as much as 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue reading

Cambium Carbon’s Reforestation Hubs

When we started this platform for sharing news and experiences related to innovative approaches to conservation, Seth was in Nicaragua and wrote multiple posts on Simplemente Madera  It is odd not to find a more recent post about their One Tree initiative because in early 2019 while sourcing for Authentica we sought out products that supported tree-planting. Today I am reminded of all that from a link I followed to Cambium Carbon in this story:

Courtesy of Cambium Carbon. Cambium Carbon aims to turn cut or fallen urban trees into wood products that can be sold to fund tree-planting efforts. Currently, most trees removed from cities are either chipped for low-grade application or hauled to a landfill at a significant cost.

Reforestation Hubs, ‘Coming Soon’ to a City Near You

Cambium Carbon, an initiative founded by YSE students to combat climate change and revitalize urban communities by reimagining the urban tree lifecycle, has earned a $200,000 Natural Climate Solution Accelerator Grant from The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with The Arbor Day Foundation. Continue reading

Acacia Trees & Anti-Desertification

Credit: Getty

Thanks to the BBC for this:

The ancient trade holding back the Sahara Desert

For millennia, the gum of the acacia tree has been prized for its unusual culinary and medical uses. Now, the trees are part of a continent-wide effort to hold back the Sahara Desert.

In the Malian bush, a scattering of acacia trees grow through the wild grass and shrubs that spread for miles across the semi-arid scrub. Herders graze cattle nearby and local people fetch firewood. The acacias are among the taller and faster-growing trees of this habitat, with old individuals reaching high above the surrounding scrub.

Gum arabic spills out naturally from wounds in the acacia tree, but it can also be extracted by making deliberate incisions into the bark (Credit: Reuters)

This is the Sahel, a savannah that stretches across six countries in mainland West Africa. This dry strip of land between the tropical rainforests to the south, and the Sahara to the north, sees just three months of rain a year. It’s a region that is changing quickly. Climate change has seen the Sahara Desert grow around 100km (62 miles) southward since 1950, and is expected to continue the same trend in the coming decades. Continue reading

Forests & Human Intervention

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana.

The Tuppers Lake area in western Montana. STEVEN GNAM

Even as we may feel overdosed on news about forest fires, understanding what to do next is important. Thanks to Fred Pearce and Yale e360 for sharing relevant science:

Natural Debate: Do Forests Grow Better With Our Help or Without?

Nations around the world are pledging to plant billions of trees to grow new forests. But a new study shows that the potential for natural forest regrowth to absorb carbon from the atmosphere and fight climate change is far greater than has previously been estimated.

When Susan Cook-Patton was doing a post-doc in forest restoration at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland seven years ago, she says she helped plant 20,000 trees along Chesapeake Bay. It was a salutary lesson. “The ones that grew best were mostly ones we didn’t plant,” she remembers. “They just grew naturally on the ground we had set aside for planting. Lots popped up all around. It was a good reminder that nature knows what it is doing.” Continue reading

Trees, Maira Kalman & Vote

8+ years since the first link, and nearly 6 years since the last link to Maira Kalman‘s work, we are happy to see that a new book is en route. If you want to contribute to a novel get-out-the-vote mechanism, this may be for you:

trees

60.00

by Maira Kalman

Signed, second printing.
Each booklet comes with a piece of bark from a cloven tree.

100% of the proceeds will be donated to organizations working to bring out the vote, including the ACLU.
4.25” x 5.5” / 40 pages / Color / Stitched binding
Booklets will ship via USPS in October. We will ship as quickly as we can.

Every tree you encounter will lift your spirits.

(limit 10 booklets per order.)

Thanks to the New Yorker for bringing this to our attention with the following:

Looking at a Tree

By

Henry Hudson Park. The Bronx, New York.

There are two trees that have changed my life. The first was in Riverdale, the Bronx. It was in Henry Hudson Park, which was behind our building. My mother took me to the public library. Big windows, light pouring in. I was able to take books out to the park. I am eight years old or so, sitting in the tree in the park and reading “Pippi Longstocking.” In my memory, I was alone. The book was about a girl bursting with self-confidence and force. No parents in sight. A fantasy with madcap humor and a touching sense of kindness. This was me. And in those decisive, enchanted moments, I decided that I would write stories.

Ayot St. Lawrence, England.

When I was nineteen, I spent the summer in England, travelling with a friend and knocking about. We found ourselves in Ayot St. Lawrence, a little village outside of London. We were walking somewhere and passed a field with an immense tree in it. Maybe it was not far from a church or cemetery. Maybe I had just finished eating scones with clotted cream. At any rate, it took my breath away.

No tree since has made me feel that way. I have met many trees that I adore and admire. But that particular tree, on that particular day, has become one of the images in my life-is-good column…

Consider Switching Your Search Engine

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Christian Kroll was inspired to change the direction of his life after travelling through India

I remember testing Ecosia in 2013, when we were based in India. For some reason I no longer recall it did not remain my default search engine then. But after reading again about it now–and more about its founder’s ideas and expectations, and most importantly his actions–I was intrigued enough to do another test. Not exhaustive, but I compared the search results on Ecosia versus Google for a bunch of words and phrases that are of interest to me. Since Ecosia is connected to Bing I did not need to compare those results. Result? I have just made Ecosia my default search engine, for the reasons Mr. Kroll expected I would. And if for any reason I decide to switch back, this time I will report why here. But I do not expect to. This is an attempt to be consistent with my own expectations. Thanks to Suzanne Bearne for bringing this/him back to my attention:

The search engine boss who wants to help us all plant trees

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It supports 20 tree-planting projects in 15 different countries. Photo: JOSHI GOTTLIEN.

The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles different business leaders from around the world. This week we speak to Christian Kroll, the founder and chief executive of internet search engine Ecosia.

Christian Kroll wants nothing less than to change the world.

“I want to make the world a greener, better place,” he says.

“I also want to prove that there is a more ethical alternative to the kind of greedy capitalism that is coming close to destroying the planet.” Continue reading

The Refuge Of Family Forests

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Tim Leiby co-owns his 95-acre forest near Blain, Pennsylvania with eight other families. GABRIEL POPKIN / YALE E360

Gabriel Popkin takes a “who knew?” topic and brightens up the day:

How Small Family Forests Can Help Meet the Climate Challenge

As efforts grow to store more CO2 emissions in forests, one sector has been overlooked — small, family-owned woodlands, which comprise 38 percent of U.S. forests. Now, a major conservation initiative is aiming to help these owners manage their lands for maximum carbon storage.

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Hickory leaves emerge on Tim Leiby’s forest, a sign of progress toward bringing back native hardwoods. GABRIEL POPKIN / YALE E360

Tim Leiby had wrapped up a fun but fruitless early-morning turkey hunt and was enjoying an old John Wayne flick when I arrived at Willow Lodge near Blain, Pennsylvania. A few flurries drifted down on this unseasonably cold May morning. After a quick scan of antlers mounted on virtually every wall of the cozy hunting lodge, we headed out for a socially distanced stroll through what Leiby calls “our little piece of heaven.”

This 95-acre woods in south-central Pennsylvania’s ridge-and-valley country is a hunting and hiking refuge co-owned by eight families. Continue reading

Tech for Trees

[Photo: courtesy Flash Forest] One of Flash Forest’s prototype drones

And speaking of trees, here’s an example of small tech stepping in when political leadership wavers. The good news is there is ample room for both, and we hope that both systems receive the support they need.

Here’s to a billion trees!

These drones will plant 40,000 trees in a month. By 2028, they’ll have planted 1 billion

We need to massively reforest the planet, in a very short period of time. Flash Forest’s drones can plant trees a lot faster than humans.

This week, on land north of Toronto that previously burned in a wildfire, drones are hovering over fields and firing seed pods into the ground, planting native pine and spruce trees to help restore habitat for birds. Flash Forest, the Canadian startup behind the project, plans to use its technology to plant 40,000 trees in the area this month. By the end of the year, as it expands to other regions, it will plant hundreds of thousands of trees. By 2028, the startup aims to have planted a full 1 billion trees.

[Photo: courtesy Flash Forest]

The company, like a handful of other startups that are also using tree-planting drones, believes that technology can help the world reach ambitious goals to restore forests to stem biodiversity loss and fight climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that it’s necessary to plant 1 billion hectares of trees—a forest roughly the size of the entire United States—to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Existing forests need to be protected while new trees are planted; right now, that isn’t working well. “There are a lot of different attempts to tackle reforestation,” says Flash Forest cofounder and chief strategy officer Angelique Ahlstrom. “But despite all of them, they’re still failing, with a net loss of 7 billion trees every year.”

Drones don’t address deforestation, which is arguably an even more critical issue than planting trees, since older trees can store much more carbon. But to restore forests that have already been lost, the drones can work more quickly and cheaply than humans planting with shovels. Flash Forest’s tech can currently plant 10,000 to 20,000 seed pods a day; as the technology advances, a pair of pilots will be able to plant 100,000 trees in a day (by hand, someone might typically be able to plant around 1,500 trees in a day, Ahlstrom says.) The company aims to bring the cost down to 50 cents per tree, or around a fourth of the cost of some other tree restoration efforts.

When it begins work at a site, the startup first sends mapping drones to survey the area, using software to identify the best places to plant based on the soil and existing plants. Next, a swarm of drones begins precisely dropping seed pods, packed in a proprietary mix that the company says encourages the seeds to germinate weeks before they otherwise would have. The seed pods are also designed to store moisture, so the seedlings can survive even with months of drought. In some areas, such as hilly terrain or in mangrove forests, the drones use a pneumatic firing device that shoots seed pods deeper into the soil. “It allows you to get into trickier areas that human planters can’t,” Ahlstrom says. Continue reading

Planting Trees, A Two-For-One Deal

A Civilian Conservation Corps enrollee planting a tree circa 1938. Fotosearch/Getty Images

Thanks to Collin O’Mararough, president and C.E.O. of the National Wildlife Federation, for his idea about how to employ some of the unemployed. Deploy them. Planting trees is not sufficient to solve the looming crisis of climate change, but it is a start:

7.7 Million Young People Are Unemployed. We Need a New ‘Tree Army.’

The Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps helped build America at a time of national crisis. Let’s do it again.

Nearly 7.7 million American workers younger than 30 are now unemployed and three million dropped out of the labor force in the past month. Combined that’s nearly one in three young workers, by far the highest rate since the country started tracking unemployment by age in 1948.

Nearly 40 percent worked in the devastated retail and food service sectors. And as the most recently hired, young workers are typically the first let go and often the last rehired, especially those of color.

As our country’s leaders consider a range of solutions to address this crisis, there’s one fix that will put millions of young Americans directly to work: a 21st-century version of the Civilian Conservation Corps.

In 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt created the C.C.C., he was facing, as we are today, the possibility of a lost generation of young people. The conservation-minded president’s idea was to hire young unemployed men for projects in forestry, soil conservation and recreation. By 1942, the 3.4 million participants in “Roosevelt’s Tree Army” had planted more than three billion trees, built hundreds of parks and wildlife refuges and completed thousands of miles of trails and roads.

Continue reading

The Trees That May Survive Humanity

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Bristlecone pines have the look of survivors, not conquerors. Fittingly, they found fame during the Cold War, when atomic tests were taking place not far off, in the Nevada desert. Bristlecones are post-apocalyptic trees, sci-fi trees. Photograph by John Chiara for The New Yorker

Alex Ross mainly writes about music, but when he sets his sights on other important topics his musicality illuminates in a powerful way:

The Past and the Future of the Earth’s Oldest Trees

Bristlecone pines have survived various catastrophes over the millennia, and they may survive humanity.

About forty-five hundred years ago, not long after the completion of the Great Pyramid at Giza, a seed of Pinus longaeva, the Great Basin bristlecone pine, landed on a steep slope in what are now known as the White Mountains, in eastern California. The seed may have travelled there on a gust of wind, its flight aided by a winglike attachment to the nut. Or it could have been planted by a bird known as the Clark’s nutcracker, which likes to hide pine seeds in caches; nutcrackers have phenomenal spatial memory and can recall thousands of such caches. This seed, however, lay undisturbed. On a moist day in fall, or in the wake of melting snows in spring, a seedling appeared above ground—a stubby one-inch stem with a tuft of bright-green shoots.

Most seedlings die within a year; the mortality rate is more than ninety-nine per cent. The survivors are sometimes seen growing in the shadow of a fallen tree. Continue reading

Organikos, 100% Forward To 1,000,000

6555On July 5th I first read the news about what planting a trillion trees might do for the fight against climate change. One week later this magazine cover drove the point further home for me with the Woody Guthrie reference. Organikos already had ideas and imagery for the commitment of 100% of its profits to conservation, and by the time I saw this cover I knew our focus would be on planting treesComing back to this magazine cover now, I am struck by the power of the number referenced in the scientific study.

One trillion.

1,000,000,000,000.

How long would it take Organikos to plant one million of those trees?

Blueprint For Planting Trees

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Redwood trees in Guerneville, California. Photograph: Gabrielle Lurie/The Guardian

Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, shares a report on the value of reforestation for carbon sequestration:

Tree planting ‘has mind-blowing potential’ to tackle climate crisis

Research shows a trillion trees could be planted to capture huge amount of carbon dioxide

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The potential for new forests that do not encroach on cropland is high in the UK, Ireland and central Europe. Guardian graphic. Source: Bastin et al, Science, 2019

Planting billions of trees across the world is by far the biggest and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, according to scientists, who have made the first calculation of how many more trees could be planted without encroaching on crop land or urban areas.

As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting programme could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as “mind-blowing”.

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The potential for new forests that do not encroach on cropland is high in the UK, Ireland and central Europe

The analysis found there are 1.7bn hectares of treeless land on which 1.2tn native tree saplings would naturally grow. That area is about 11% of all land and equivalent to the size of the US and China combined. Tropical areas could have 100% tree cover, while others would be more sparsely covered, meaning that on average about half the area would be under tree canopy. Continue reading

Tropical Wetlands Offer Another Surprise

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A wetland forest in Tupana, Brazil. AMAURI AGUIAR/FLICKR

Tropical wetlands have been a source of wonder, due to their biodiversity, since we started paying attention along time ago. Fred Pearce offers another of his surprises here:

Scientists Zero in on Trees as a Surprisingly Large Source of Methane

Recent research is showing that trees, especially in tropical wetlands, are a major source of the second most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, methane. The knowledge that certain woodlands are high methane emitters should help guide reforestation projects in many parts of the world.

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Tropical wetlands, such as this mangrove forest in Bali, give off the most intense tree-based emissions of methane. ALAMY

There are many mysteries in the Amazon. Until recently, one of the most troubling was the vast methane emissions emerging from the rainforest that were observed by satellites but that nobody could find on the ground. Around 20 million tons was simply unaccounted for.

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Sunitha Pangala installs a device that measures a tree’s methane emissions, in the Amazon. COURTESY OF SUNITHA PANGALA

Then Sunitha Pangala, a British post-doc researcher, spent two months traveling the Amazon’s waterways strapping gas-measuring equipment to thousands of trees. She found that trees, especially in the extensive flooded forests, were stimulating methane production in the waterlogged soils and mainlining it into the atmosphere.

Her 2014 expedition plugged a gaping hole in the planet’s methane budget. And she had discovered a hitherto ignored major source of the second most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. It now seems that most of the world’s estimated 3 trillion trees emit methane at least some of the time. Continue reading

History As Told By Trees

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A sample from Siberia, with the core dating from 1637 and the outer ring from 2011, hangs on a wall at the research lab on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Thanks to Jim Robbins, as always:

Chronicles of the Rings: What Trees Tell Us

Studying the historical data stored in centuries-old trees is a burgeoning field, with labs around the world learning more about historical patterns of weather and climate and the effects on humans.

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Wood samples for research at the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona. Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

TUCSON — From the early 1700s until the 1960s, the fast moving river of wind known as the North Atlantic Jet Stream, which drives weather extremes over Europe, was pretty steady on its course.

Then it became less predictable. But instrument data alone can’t tell the jet stream’s movements for comparison over the centuries, given that scientists began keeping records of weather events via instruments only in the late 19th century. Continue reading

A Game of Arboreal Chess Against Climate Change

Illustrations by Andrew Khosravani

Those familiar with this site know that climate change denial would find difficult footing; no leap of faith is required to take it as scientific fact. We appreciate the following examples of learning from recent history of forest collapse and planning for environmental changes accordingly.

Can Humans Help Trees Outrun Climate Change?

SCITUATE, R. I. — Foresters began noticing the patches of dying pines and denuded oaks, and grew concerned. Warmer winters and drier summers had sent invasive insects and diseases marching northward, killing the trees.

If the dieback continued, some woodlands could become shrub land.

Most trees can migrate only as fast as their seeds disperse — and if current warming trends hold, the climate this century will change 10 times faster than many tree species can move, according to one estimate. Rhode Island is already seeing more heat and drought, shifting precipitation and the intensification of plagues such as the red pine scale, a nearly invisible insect carried by wind that can kill a tree in just a few years.

The dark synergy of extreme weather and emboldened pests could imperil vast stretches of woodland.

So foresters in Rhode Island and elsewhere have launched ambitious experiments to test how people can help forests adapt, something that might take decades to occur naturally. One controversial idea, known as assisted migration, involves deliberately moving trees northward. But trees can live centuries, and environments are changing so fast in some places that species planted today may be ill-suited to conditions in 50 years, let alone 100. No one knows the best way to make forests more resilient to climatic upheaval.

These great uncertainties can prompt “analysis paralysis,” said Maria Janowiak, deputy director of the Forest Service’s Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, or N.I.A.C.S. But, she added, “We can’t keep waiting until we know everything.” Continue reading

Bird Habitat One Yard At A Time

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Photo: Illustration: Marina Muun

Sometimes the planning is as fulfilling as the outcome. Thanks to Janet Marinelli and Audubon Magazine:

Plant Trees that Turn Your Yard Into a Bird Oasis—and Carbon Sponge

Trees create habitat and store CO2 for decades to come. Just be sure to pick carefully.

One of the best ways to combat climate change is to fill your garden with as many trees, shrubs, and other plants as possible. Whether a tiny orchid or towering oak, all plants have the amazing ability to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and store it in their wood, shoots, and roots.

Because they’re the giants of the plant kingdom, trees are also powerhouses of carbon storage. In one year, a mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of CO2—about the amount emitted by driving 150 miles in a hybrid plug-in car. Collectively, according to the U.S. Forest Service, trees offset 10 to 20 percent of U.S. emissions from burning fossil fuels each year. The carbon benefits really begin to add up when you consider that trees fight global warming in other ways. For example, carefully placed trees can reduce the energy required to heat and cool a home by 25 percent (see tips here on how to place trees). Because they cool the air by casting shade and releasing water vapor when they breathe, trees also alleviate one of the most underestimated health threats of climate change—heat wavesContinue reading

In Case Of Emergency, Plant Trees

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Fox Maple Woods in Wisconsin. JOSHUA MAYER / FLICKR

Emergency? The evidence is clear in the case of the environment, and it is a global emergency with a global solution. Thanks to Yale e360 for this summary of a new finding:

Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading

Trees, Cities & Happiness

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A tree in Riverfront Park competes for grandeur with Nashville’s iconic At&T building. Credit William DeShazer for The New York Times

PlantTreeCity.jpgI just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:

“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.

“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”

PlantTreesCity2Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:

More Trees, Happier People

When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.

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A tale of two trees in Nashville. A mature tree in England Park, left, and a newly planted tree at Wright Middle School.

NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”

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Photographs by William DeShazer for The New York Times

The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.

The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.

Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading

The Networking Of Trees, A Novel Idea In Novel Form

9780393635522_300The novelist Richard Powers, I see from this review, has utilized an idea I first heard of in 2016, and that idea disappeared for a couple years (from my view, anyway). But that compelling idea is back, fictionalized and more interesting than ever:

People see better what looks like them,” observes the field biologist Patricia Westerford, one of the nine—nine—main characters of Richard Powers’s 12th novel, The Overstory. And trees, Patricia discovers, look like people. They are social creatures, caring for one another, communicating, learning, trading goods and services; despite lacking a brain, trees are “aware.” After borers attack a sugar maple, it emits insecticides that warn its neighbors, which respond by intensifying their own defenses. When the roots of two Douglas firs meet underground, they fuse, joining vascular systems; if one tree gets ill, the other cares for it. The chopping down of a tree causes those surrounding it to weaken, as if in mourning. But Powers’s findings go beyond Dr. Pat’s. In his tree-mad novel, which contains as many species as any North American forest—17 are named on the first page alone—trees speak, sing, experience pain, dream, remember the past, and predict the future. The past and the future, it turns out, are mirror images of each other. Neither contains people.

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Olaf Hajek

Barbara Kingsolver’s earlier review in the New York Times started the ante on the must-read judgement that Nathaniel Rich (above) upped:

Trees do most of the things you do, just more slowly. They compete for their livelihoods and take care of their families, sometimes making huge sacrifices for their children. They breathe, eat and have sex. They give gifts, communicate, learn, remember and record the important events of their lives. With relatives and non-kin alike they cooperate, forming neighborhood watch committees — to name one example — with rapid response networks to alert others to a threatening intruder. Continue reading