They make everything beautiful.
from A Tree is Nice
written by Janice May Udry
pictures by Marc Simont
Accessed on YouTube 7/14/23
Anyone driving or walking by could tell the tree had breathed its last. A big storm passed through my neighborhood July 3rd and ripped off a large limb of one of my neighbor’s big, old maple trees. It’s extremely sad when a tree dies, but it is the way of our world.
Although much of the tree still bravely stood, its insides had rotted. The arborists came last weekend to remove the tree. It took most of the day. They fed limbs, branches, and leaves into the shredder, turned it to mulch, and hauled it away. I’m sure the mulch will nurture many gardens and help them winter over. That is also the way of the world.
We have a symbiotic relationship with trees. We breathe the oxygen they produce during photosynthesis and expel carbon dioxide. Trees use carbon dioxide to make the carbon-based sugars it needs to for wood growth and other necessary functions. Trees store carbon in their leaves, branches, trucks, and roots. They naturally release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they decompose after they die. They also release carbon if they catch on fire or become infested with insects or disease.
When it’s in balance, the amount of carbon stored in forests generally equals the amount released into the atmosphere.
Wildfires and insect infestations upset that balance. So does excessive logging. So does turning forests into grazing lands or other agricultural purposes. When we burn fossil fuels, which were formed over millions of years, we release carbon into the atmosphere. Since we cannot re-capture as much carbon as we are releasing, the earth is out of balance. Less carbon stored in trees, means more carbon is in the air, an ingredient in the recipe for a warmer planet.
Oceans absorb some carbon dioxide. So do trees. Actually all vegetation stores carbon, but trees are especially important. Their large size allows them to store lots of carbon. Their long lives allow them to store lots of carbon for a long time.
Enter Akiro Miyawaki (1928 - 2021) a Japanese botanist and ecologist. In 1958, he was invited to study in Germany where he learned that “native vegetation … has the ability to support … [a given area] that existed before human intervention.” This was during a time in Japan of massive building with little regard for environmental disturbances and consequences.
Dr. Miyawaki returned to Japan in 1960 and put his knowledge to work. Since most native plants had been removed, he used the protected forests around Shinto shrines to begin a catalogue of native species. These surveys caught the attention of the Japanese business world. Staying true to what he learned in Germany, Dr. Miyawaki was not interested in quick fixes, covering up the pollution companies caused with their destruction with “a little greenery.”
“I would,” he said at a lecture before the Ministry of the Environment, “be very happy to cooperate in creating a real, native forest based on the potential natural vegetation of the area.”
Many Japanese companies have a global reach and Miyawaki’s idea of Microforests grew to a worldwide movement.
Microforests are small, dense, biodiverse forests that grow fast in both urban and rural areas. A variety of native species is densely planted in an area that can cover as little as under 4 acres. Flowers, shrubs, and trees grow quickly because they compete for nutrients and sunlight. Generally they are cared for (weeded and watered) for about 3 years. Within just a few years, they reach their optimum height and density. Regular forests can take up to 20 or even 50 years to mature.
ADKN is an organization that works mainly in African and Asian countries “to help communities and individuals become self-reliant.” Here are some photos of the microforests they have planted enlisting the help of local people, mostly women.
In the US, Miyawaki forests are also catching on. You can find tiny forests from Cambridge, MA, to Los Angeles, CA. According to earth.org, “[c]reating accessible ways to store carbon and increase biodiversity can help slow down climate change.” Conveniently, microforests are becoming most popular where they are most needed, urban areas. And because they are planted in “layers,” many kinds of plants (including trees), birds, animals, insects, and fungi thrive together. Each layer helps the others become healthier.
Just like us with our glands, organs, and systems, our planet needs a vast variety and number of living organisms working together to stay healthy. This is biodiversity.
Miyawaki planted over 40 million trees in thousands of tiny forests during his lifetime, adding to the biodiversity mainly in cities. But microforests will never be able to replace the 5 million hectares (over 12 million acres) of forest every year lost to local agriculture and consumers worldwide demanding more and more goods.
Maybe my neighbor will replant the tree she lost. Maybe I’ll find room to plant one, too. Since trees communicate through their root systems with the help of pheromones and fungi, they are more likely to thrive if a couple of the same species live near each other.
While a little dry for my taste, Lies My Teacher Taught Me (James W. Loewen.The New Press, 2018) is an important recognition of our society’s denial of racism and reliance on whitewashing our history. Thoroughly researched and told in a no-nonsense voice, it’s anything but didactic. The combination of sociology and history gives the author a firm footing for his comparison of High School History Textbooks and how they (and our teachers) have influenced us. Recommended, but allow plenty of time!
-—Be curious! (and hug, better yet, plant a tree)