“Planting a tree is an act of hope” declares the Arbor Day Foundation. But how do you do that? And why should you? Three wonderful books show you how and explain why with inspiring stories, heartbreaking eye-witness reporting, and colorful pictures and illustrations.
In Now Is the Time for Trees: Make an Impact by Planting the World’s Most Valuable Resource, Dan Lambe, president and chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation, has pulled together a family-friendly how-to guide that can help you choose, plant, and grow trees for your home.
The Arbor Day Foundation started encouraging people to plant trees in 1872 as a way to restore soil health, create windbreaks, and provide shade in parts of the country that had been clear-cut to make way for agriculture and urban development. One hundred and fifty years later, fighting climate change through tree planting and protection has become a top priority. “The world is getting hotter and more crowded,” writes Lambe. “Our climate is in crisis.” Trees “represent an imperative strategy” for tackling the climate and other environmental challenges.
“If there were ever a moment for people to be a part of a tree planting movement, that moment is now.”
Read the background on deforestation in the book or review the many benefits trees provide, from improving air quality to cooling urban heat islands to protecting groundwater. Or flip to Chapter 5, titled “It’s Time to Plant.” You’ll find recommendations on how to plant the right tree in the right place and ways to “plan for success” so that once you pick and plant your tree, it not only survives but thrives.
Get your kids involved every step of the way. Stroll around your property together to find the best tree-planting spots, then head to a local nursery to pick out your plants. Many communities give away native tree saplings on or around their local Arbor Day celebrations, which usually happen sometime around the last Friday of April. This year Arbor Day lands on April 29, and you can find local Arbor Day activities here.
While Arbor Day focuses on the trees in our yards, author Ben Rawlence wants us to look farther north, all the way to the ring of trees called the boreal forest that circles the globe from Alaska to Russia in a big subpolar swath that, next to the ocean, is the largest living system on Earth. Rawlence tells the story of this “biome” in The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth.
Rawlence is both a reporter and the founder of Black Mountains College, an institution dedicated to “teaching the skills necessary for mitigating and adapting to climate change.” The boreal forest is bearing the brunt of that change, he says. The whole treeline has been been moving north for the past 50 years to escape the rising heat invading their normal habitats.
“The planet is hyperventilating,” he warns. “This bright green halo is moving unnaturally fast … turning the white Arctic green.”
“The trees are on the move. They shouldn’t be. And this sinister fact has enormous consequences for all life on earth.”
Wherever trees and forests are, do they talk? Suzanne Simard argues that they do in her thrilling and provocative Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. A forest ecologist who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, Simard came to understand trees as living beings that communicate with each other through vast underground networks of roots and fungi, building societies that are at least as complex as the human ones we live in, if not more so.
In a video introducing the book, Simard stands next to a huge redwood in the middle of a northern rainforest. Like us, “trees have complex lives,” she notes. “They know what their neighbors are doing. They communicate with one another through webs of fungal filaments that travel through the soil” or by lofting chemicals into the air. They’re in a “constant conversation, helping each other out.”
The “mother” trees are the biggest, oldest trees in the forest, “the glue that holds the forest together,” says Simard. “They have the genes from previous climates; they are homes to so many creatures, so much biodiversity … [keeping] keep carbon in the soil and … the water flowing… We can’t afford to lose them.”
In her book, Simard echoes the sentiment Rawlence expressed about the boreal forest, that “the velocity of climate change is far faster than the velocity at which trees can migrate on their own or adapt.”
If we help them survive, Simard says it will be worth it. “This is a book not so much about how we can save the trees. It’s more a book about how the trees will save us.”
Hopefully both will happen, especially with the new executive order President Biden issued on Earth Day to protect America’s oldest trees.
“Our forests are our planet’s lungs,” said Biden. He noted it was particularly important to strengthen our forests as fierce wildfires fueled by climate change continue to burn millions of forested acres.
You can learn about how climate change increases wildfires and how your region is affected here.