Survival of the Forest
Sunday, July 29th, 2012
I’m reading a book about a man whose mission is to clone (and therefore preserve) the Champion Trees of the world so that we continue to have trees– and DNA– from the fittest, strongest, and most likely to thrive trees left in the world at this time. And considering how little of the world’s once vast forests remain, this is a vital task, and a sad one. There aren’t many Champion Trees left in our world. We’ve cut them all down for bark mulch and siding and firewood and barn rafters and paper and to clear the way for cows to graze.
The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet by Jim Robbins is my new favorite book. He talks about scientific truths I’ve only vaguely sensed. And there are several descriptions of near-death experiences (coupled with light-beings who call these survivors to save the planet one way or another) which I found fascinating as well.
The message from all that science and those moments of surviving the impossible is simple: Want to save the planet from mass extinction? Save the trees. Trees manage, preserve and filter our water supplies. The bacteria on trees seed the clouds for rain to occur. Trees provide habitat for species diversity. Trees also provide much of the medicine we modern humans have come to rely on. Trees provide food for humans, too. Directly and indirectly. Trees, it turns out, also are strong natural chemical factories. Research suggests that the chemicals trees release may be directly responsible for the existence of our ozone– the thing that filters dangerous rays of sun from burning us and all life on earth to a cancerous crisp. Trees also emit chemicals that prevent and treat cancer, asthma, and a host of other diseases. Tree chemicals act as natural bug-repellent, antibiotics and anti-virals for fish and animals, and much much more.
But a single tree is vulnerable. A forest of trees, if it’s small enough and isolated enough, is vulnerable. Even the two-degree rise in temperature we’ve seen over the last 20 years has had a disastrous effect on the remaining forests, killing hundreds of thousands of acres, and allowing tree-eating insects and beetles to multiply and feast on trees that were previously safe from infestation. Trees actually stop breathing during heat waves in order to preserve their moisture, which means they don’t photosynthesize and they don’t get any nutrients until they start breathing again. If the heat wave lasts too long, the tree uses up its stored resources, and dies.
The most interesting parts of the book (so far) to me are references to decontamination projects that use trees and flowers (like the sunflower, for example!) as intentional filtration systems. There’s even a town in Sweden called Enkoping that replaced their sewage treatment plant with a willow tree field. Here’s how they do it:
The wastewater , which contains high levels of nitrogen, is pumped onto about 190 acres of coppiced willows– willows whose main trunks have been cut off, allowing dozens of basal sprouts, or suckers, to grow. This field of dense willow forest takes up and neutralizes the waste. The system treats about eleven tons of nitrogen a year, the production of the entire city, and some phosphorus, which the trees turn into fertilizer. Then, the willow coppices are harvested, chipped into small pieces, and used as a biofuel to generate electricity for Enkoping.
Here are more amazing examples of phytoremediation (the cleaning up of toxic waste with trees):
Lou Licht, founder of Ecolotree– a phytoremediation company out of Iowa– has just finished a seven-acre willow installation in Seattle to catch urban runoff that flows into Puget Sound. The water Licht is treating flows into a swale and percolates through the roots of a large grove of willows. … “Every drop of water passes within an inch of the roots, and the root zone reactor cleans it,” says Licht. In farm country, Ecolotree has used a field of trees to reduce 45 milligrams per gallon of organic waste nitrate nitrogen– more than four times the federal drinking water standard– to less than one milligram. … The trees not only neutralize the waste, they use it for their own growth. … So why aren’t these organic systems more widely used? “Engineers who design waste treatment are botanically challenged,” Licht says.
I tell you, this book has just joined my favorite books, “Micro Eco Farming” and “Dry It You’ll Like It” on the wellness shelf. And if you want to participate in saving the planet? Plant a few native trees, cloned from your favorite Champion tree. And water them regularly. And go sit under them even more often. It might just improve your health.
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