The Benefits of Trees

Trees provide a multitude of benefits. Unfortunately, much of the general public is not well informed on this topic. By increasing awareness of the benefits relating to trees, we can all utilize current scientific evidence to help resolve many challenging issues and improve the livability of our cities. Proper tree care and sound forest management programs are crucial to the health, longevity, and sustainability of our urban forests. The care of trees is a wise investment in our future.
A listing of the benefits, in no particular order, would include at least the following:

  1. Air Temperature and Energy Consumption
    • Trees cool air temperature and help to offset the “heat island” effect of hardscapes by
      providing shade and by transpiration (the release of water vapor into the air). By properly
      selecting and planting trees, yearly energy savings can exceed 40%. Three mature shade trees
      placed strategically around a house can cut air conditioning bills by 10% to 50%.
    • A single large tree can release up to 400 gallons of water into the atmosphere each day. Water
      from roots is drawn up to the leaves where it evaporates. The conversion from water to gas
      absorbs huge amounts of heat, cooling hot city air.
    • Dallas area neighborhoods with mature trees can be up to 11 degrees cooler than
      neighborhoods without trees. A one-degree rise in temperature equals a 2% increase in peak
      electricity consumption.
    • One simulation found that planting 500,000 trees in the Tucson area would lower the “heat
      island” effect by 3 degrees and lower overall cooling costs by up to 25%.
    • Cities are 5 to 9 degrees warmer than rural areas and 3% to 8% of summer electric use goes to
      compensate for this urban “heat island” effect.
    • The National Arbor Day Foundation calculates that 100 million additional mature trees in U.S.
      cities would reduce the “heat island” effect and save $2 billion annually.
  2. Air Quality
    • Trees produce oxygen and store carbon dioxide (just the opposite of humans), which helps to
      clean and restore our air. The American Forests organization’s studies foresee the value of the
      urban forest to U.S. cities to be $10 billion by storing carbon dioxide, cleaning particulate
      matter, and generating oxygen for urban spaces.
    • One acre of trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people every day.
    • One acre of trees absorbs the carbon dioxide produced by driving an automobile 26,000 miles.
    • A fully-grown Sycamore tree can transform 26 pounds of carbon dioxide into life-giving
      oxygen every year.
    • Large trees remove 60 to 70 times more pollutants than small trees. Only a small portion of
      the Dallas area tree population exceeds 24 inches in diameter.
    • For every ton of wood an urban forest grows, it removes 1.47 tons of carbon dioxide and
      replaces it with 1.07 tons of oxygen.
    • A typical tree removes 25 to 45 pounds of carbon from the air each year.
    • A study of Atlanta’s urban forest showed that intense urban development and subsequent
      removal of large urban forest areas increased the “heat island” effect. This raised the levels of
      isoprene emissions, increasing the natural formation of harmful ozone.
    • An EPA study in Chicago showed that the 23.2% of canopy cover in the Lincoln Park
      neighborhood adjacent to downtown annually filters 43.9 tons of particulate matter, 14 tons of
      carbon dioxide, and 12.4 tons of nitrogen oxides, giving the urban forest an estimated pollution
      abatement value of $625,000 per year.
  3. Water/Soil
    • Planting trees along streams, wetlands, and lakes, helps control storm water runoff, removes
      soil sediment, reduces flood damage, and increases water quality, by reducing the pollution of
      the water runoff by as much as 80%.
    • Healthy, vegetated stream buffer zones reduce the total suspended solids phosphorus, nitrogen
      and heavy metal transfer between urban areas and streams by 55% to 99%.
    • Numerous studies show that trees along streams increase fish populations.
    • The urban forest reduces erosion. One square mile of forestland produces 50 tons of erosion
      sediment. In contrast, farmland produces 1,000 to 50,000 tons, and land prepared for
      construction produces 25,000 to 50,000 tons of sediment per year.
    • Tree canopy, in one study, reduced surface runoff from a one-inch rain over a 12 hour period
      by 17%.
    • In natural watersheds with trees and vegetation, 5% to 15% of stream flow is delivered as surface storm water runoff. In highly developed areas, over 50% of stream flow is delivered as surface storm water runoff.
  4. Animal Habitat
    • Trees attract wildlife to an area by supporting habitat and creating biodiversity.
    • Trees provide food and shelter for wildlife.
  5. Economics, Health, and Psychological and Social Behavior
    • Trees offer unlimited climbing challenges and good physical activity opportunities such as tree swings and tree houses.
    • Numerous trees and plants have proven useful in phytoremediation or removal of toxic materials from soils.
    • Trees can become living witnesses to our history and evidence of our cultures. Without a cultural history, people are rootless. Preserving historical trees offers lingering evidence to remind people of what they once were, who they are, what they are, and where they are. Trees feed our sense of history and purpose.
    • Studies across the nation show that residential home prices increase from 3% to 20% due to the presence of trees, depending on the type of trees, scarcity of treed lots, and the maturity of existing trees.
    • One widely reported study showed that viewing trees through a window during surgery recovery cut the average recovery time by almost one whole day compared to patients with a view of a blank wall.
    • People turn to the urban forest, preserved by humans as parks, wilderness, or wildlife refuges, for something they cannot get in a built environment. The quality of human life depends on an ecologically sustainable and aesthetically pleasing physical environment. The surge of interest in conserving open spaces from people motivated by ecological and aesthetic concerns is growing.
    • Trees curtail health care costs by facilitating positive emotional, intellectual, and social experiences.
    • Environmental stress may involve psychological emotions such as frustration, anger, fear and coping responses; plus associated physiological responses that use energy and contribute to fatigue. Many who live or commute in urban or blighted areas experience environmental stress. Trees in urban setting have a restorative effect that releases the tensions of modern life. Evidence demonstrating the therapeutic value of natural settings has emerged in physiological and psychological studies. The cost of environmental stress in terms of work-days lost and medical care is likely to be substantially greater than the cost of providing and maintaining trees, parks, and urban forestry programs.
    • Trees are a source of food for humans, i.e. Pecans, Walnuts, Almonds, etc. On a large scale, trees require less fertilizer and keep the soil healthier than most crops.
  6. Aesthetics
    • Trees can screen objectionable views, offer privacy, reduce glare and light reflection, offer a sound barrier (acoustical control), and help guide wind direction and speed.
    • Trees offer aesthetic functions such as creating a background, framing a view, complementing architecture, and bringing natural elements into urban surroundings.

Updated 01/19/05