Festival of the Trees 42: seven billion new trees

old rock oak (Quercus prinus)

Welcome to the 42nd edition of the Festival of the Trees! When I announced this edition on the coordinating blog, I joked that I felt a little like the Once-ler, the hermit-like narrator of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, who gives the boy a tree seed to plant at the end of the book. I’ve been saying for years that I felt we needed to be focusing on reforestation as a society, but did anyone listen? No, they did not. Until now.

Suddenly, tree planting is hot. This month in Copenhagen, world leaders will assemble to try and hammer out a new climate change agreement, and forest preservation is front and center. Deforestation has been estimated to account for around 20 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide — more than the cumulative total from cars and trucks. Countries from the global South are angling for compensation in return for halting or reversing deforestation, but even developed countries like the United States are seeing a renewed interest in restoring forested landscapes. As Science Daily reports, “Across the U.S. as a whole, approximately 50 percent of the warming that has occurred since 1950 is due to land use changes (usually in the form of clearing forest for crops or cities) rather than to the emission of greenhouse gases.” That’s a quote from a planning expert named Brian Stone, who “recommends slowing what he terms the ‘green loss effect’ through the planting of millions of trees in urbanized areas and through the protection and regeneration of global forests outside of urbanized regions.”

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, wrote back in August:

Scientists predict that as the temperature rises, soils in the tropics will dry up. Trees and forests could die off on a vast scale, and fresh water will be less available. The rivers leaving Kenya’s Mau forest, which replenish many lakes, including those essential to the tourism industry, are drying up. Where government policies are inadequate, communities hungry for agricultural land degrade forests, exacerbating the negative impacts of climate change.

The world hopes that in Copenhagen, governments will be guided by the realities of available scientific evidence, and act accordingly. I welcome the development of new incentive mechanisms, such as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), which should also address degradation of agricultural land. REDD would compensate developing countries for environmental services provided by indigenous forests left standing.

Other mechanisms have been proposed and should be considered, including an “emergency fund” by the Prince of Wales’ Rainforest Project, which would provide payments from public and private sources to countries that protect their rainforests.

On carbon markets, a lot is yet to be learned. The Green Belt Movement is implementing pilot projects with both the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and voluntary carbon credit schemes, the experience of which is valuable. It’s important that such markets serve the forests, conserve biodiversity and improve the livelihoods of communities.

Public education is also essential. In 2006, the Green Belt Movement partnered with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Prince Albert II of Monaco, and the World Agroforestry Centre to launch the Billion Tree Campaign. In March 2009 we passed the three billion mark for new trees planted by governments, organizations, communities, the private sector, and individuals. Our new goal is planting of an additional seven billion trees by the end of 2009 — roughly equal to what the human population will be then.

October snowstorm 2: oaks and maples

Of course, trees and forests are far more than just carbon sinks and preservers of fresh water supplies. To begin with, their sheer aesthetic impact on the human psyche cannot be minimized. Rambling Woods blog presents an unusually comprehensive post on fall foliage, including the transcript for a National Public Radio story from the end of October about how deciduous leaves fall (it turns out they’re actually pushed), as well as precise directions for how to preserve colored leaves. Leslee at 3rd House Journal writes about the “Conservation of Color” in language taken straight from the biology of deciduous trees — but in a fully lyrical, satisfying, short poem. To her, the trees promise

curatives for sharp tongues,
faintness of heart, muddlement,
sensitivity to cold and darkening days.

Jade at Arboreality shows us “Black Cottonwood in Autumn Gold,” a striking sight. At A DC Birding Blog, John watches the sky for red clouds of berries, sign of the winged, shining, flameleaf, or dwarf sumac, A.K.A. Rhus copallinum. Another D.C. blog, The Natural Capital, advises Washingtonians to look for “Witch Hazel, the Last Flowers of the Year.” In addition to the ornamental Asian species, which flowers in the winter, there is apparently native, fall-blooming Hamamelis virginiana in Rock Creek Park.

Witch hazel is also the subject of a post this month at Connecticut-based Hill-Stead’s Nature Blog, whose proprietor sent along a link to post on Sassafras, as well. Both posts blend the personal with the scientific and folkloric into brief but comprehensive posts — tree-blogging at is best, if I may say so. They do have a bit of an unfair advantage with the witch hazel, though: Hill-Stead is right up the road from “the witch hazel capital of the world.”

At Yips and Howls, a species account of the western larch by Elizabeth Enslin mixes the personal with the scientific, while Florida panhandle-based writer Beth Westmark is revisiting Sequoia National Park.

The Ella Bay wilderness in far northern Queensland is home to endangered cassowaries, among other treasures, and it seems the giant, flightless birds are there in part due to a rich diversity of fruiting rainforest trees, according to the blog Ella Bay Forever. Russ Constable not only took great photos but also consulted with three different scientists in the identification and ecological significance of the fruits gathered on just one walk along the beach.

From the island of Oahu in Hawaii this month came word of a hanging potato tree — or so blogger Sarala dubbed it at first. She figured it might be a non-native species, and so it was: Kigelia africana, or sausage tree, native to West Africa. “The island of Oahu seems to have trouble taking care of its native species,” she notes.

Wildlife biologist Ellen Snyder blogged a species sketch of the eastern hemlock at Spicebush Log, drawing attention not only to its identifying characteristics but also to its role in the ecosystem and the threat it faces from an invasive insect pest, the woolly adelgid. Unfortunately, this a threat we’re all too familiar with here in central Pennsylvania.

crabapple after rain

A New York Times article, “Building with Whole Trees,” by Anne Raver, describes forester and architect Roald Gunderson’s unique approach to building with whole, unmilled trees, often painstakingly shaped into arches while still alive, a process taking years. Most foresters look at the woods with an eye shaped by industrial monoculture, the predominant mindset of forestry schools in agricultural colleges across North America. But the best foresters — such as those employed by mountain villages in Switzerland — are really gardeners, and Gunderson is clearly in this camp. If the Times article is any indication, Gunderson’s homes are beautiful, too.

Here at Via Negativa this month, I blogged about a more typical, destructive approach to timbering on a neighbor’s land — high-grading. On a more positive note, I also shared a photo and short poem about wild apples.

Sometimes, apparently catastrophic die-offs of trees are simply part of the natural cycle, and I hope the climate change mitigation planners recognize this. At the aptly named blog under the ponderosas, Jennifer presents “Reason 645 why my blog readership is so low” — her penchant for telling the unpalatable truth about ponderosa pine forests. They’re fire adapted. They’re meant to burn. “The lodgepole forest is dead; long live the lodgepole forest,” she intones.

But the threats to trees by greedy humans seem never-ending. This month I was incensed to learn that sandalwood trees are under attack from smugglers. “How do we protect these trees?” asks Chennai-based blogger Arati. “Maybe each one of us can do our bit by not patronizing sandalwood products, be they in soaps, powders, oils or perfumes.”

In another post at Trees, Plants and more, Arati wonders about the logic of planting lines of trees from a single species. “If a disease struck one tree would it not strike all others on the same road? Does this not compartmentalize the ecological diversity of the area?” Good question. There’s clearly more to this tree-planting business than meets the eye.

Pablo at Roundrock Journal is taking a decidedly laissez-faire approach to planting trees in his Missouri woods, scattering bald cypress seeds in likely spots around streams and draws in hopes that the next flood will deposit them in optimal locations for sprouting.

Greenspade blog shares tips on planting trees for energy efficiency around your house, but local ecologist takes it a step further, delving into the question of which street trees to plant from an ecosystem standpoint.

Large stature trees — like red oak, London plane tree, or sweetgum — do interfere with overhead wires, but they also provide greater ecosystem benefits than do small stature trees: they sequester (store) more carbon, filter more particulate matter from the air, and intercept more rainfall via leaves, trunk, and soil (and slow runoff into storm drains). And, because of their larger crown spread and evapotranspiration capacity, larger trees cool larger areas of surrounding air (cooling nearby infrastructure and buildings, too).

This is no ordinary blog post; Georgia has done some of the research herself and has the data to back up her claims. Everyone with an interest in urban landscapes needs to read this essay.

Local ecologist does feature lighter pieces, too, including a couple photo-essays this past month on the trees of Sir Winston Churchill Square in Greenwich Village and the St. Louis City Garden.

In addition to the many more obvious values of urban trees (aesthetics, cleaner air, shade), their penchant for making leaf prints on concrete sidewalks can turn an otherwise ordinary stroll through the ‘hood into a magical thing. Neighborhood Nature takes a close and thorough look.

black knot on Prunus serotina

On his North Carolina mountaintop, Christopher C. wakes up one morning to find that a tall black locust tree has split and is threatening to crush a nearby apple. This is a situation I know all too well: the black locusts around the houses here on our Pennsylvania mountaintop have constantly calved limbs over the years. Great as black locusts are for fence posts and for forest restoration projects, they do not make good yard trees!

Crackskull Bob unwinds from watching the Sunday morning talking heads by sketching a broken tree, while the wonderfully cracked artist Christoph Niemann at Abstract City, a New York Times blog, shapes real leaves into a Shel Silversteinian form of biodiversity. His new “finds” include such rarities as Rod-Blogojevich’s-Hair Tree and Eighties-Jeans Tree.

Trees appeal to all kinds of artists, it seems. Withering leaves on the ground inspire UK blogger Suzi Smith, who uses walnut ink to reproduce the “sludgy colours” in her haiku calligraphy.

Photoblogger Catherine Kennedy shares a couple shots of Achray Forest, which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in the Trossachs, in Scotland. Just west of Edinburgh, Crafty Green Poet reports on a walk through the Almondell County Park’s ancient woodland, notable for its very old birch trees.

I confess I didn’t realize that Dutch elm disease was a problem in Europe, too, but in a “meeting with a remarkable tree,” the Oxford Elm, British blogger Tony comments that large old elm trees have become scarce “as 80% of Elms succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. Dutch Elm disease has been with us for centuries but in the 1960s a virulent strain arrived on these shores from North America. Some 20 million trees were killed.”

Ashley Peace in Sheffield, England shares a photo-essay on Autumn in Millstone’s Wood, where the ground lies thick in fallen beech leaves.

Arati from Chennai sent along one other post late in the month, reporting on a local Free the Tree campaign: groups of people get together, in this case organized by Arati herself, to remove the hundreds of nails pounded into roadside trees over the years to hold advertisements. The volunteers then fill the wounds with a mixture of soil and turmeric paste to help them heal. I had known that turmeric is considered something of a heal-all for humans, but hadn’t realized it works on trees, too.

Novelist and poet Marly Youmans is someone who’s spent a lot of time thinking about what trees and humans have in common. She sent along the link to some of her recent treeish poems in the online journal Mezzo Cammin: “The Foliate Head,” and “The Throne of Psyche,” which begins,

A soul’s mysterious as any tree–
It drives a root as deadly low as hell,
It stretches peaceful branches heaven-high,
It harvests light with leaves of memory.

The last submission I received for this month’s festival returns us, once again, to the theme of tree-planting. A post at Nature’s Whispers captures the solemnity, the pathos, and the unintended humor of a tree-planting ceremony to honor two stillborn children.

We had told my 3 year old daughter that today we would be planting a tree. As we all know, the world revolves around every toddler so my daughter obviously understood that to mean that she would be doing the planting. She picked up our precious sapling and flung it around like a majorette twirls her mace before plonking it unceremoniously into the hole, upside down. I heard my intake of breath as my heart rested in my mouth and I gasped ‘be gentle’. It all turned out all right in the end, the tree was planted. My daughter helped pack the earth around the roots with her hands, as she did on the days her sisters were buried. You’ve got to love that girl, I’m sure she was born a healer.

sunrise from Laurel Ridge


Thanks to everyone for sending in links and restoring my faith in the long-term viability of this blog carnival! The next edition of the Festival of the Trees will appear at xenogere on January 1, 2010. Email your links to Jason — jason[at]xenogere[dot]com — by December 30.

By the way, if you want to be sure not to miss Festival deadlines and new editions, consider subscribing to the coordinating blog via email. We’re also on Twitter now, and of course the blog has an RSS feed, but nothing beats an emailed reminder.

23 Replies to “Festival of the Trees 42: seven billion new trees”

  1. what a wonderful write-up and what stunning pictures!! i loved this edition of the festival, thank you so much for putting it together!
    – arati

    btw – it should be ‘herself’ — im a ‘she’!!

  2. This is a wonderful post Dave. And why I am nervous about hosting as you would be a difficult act to follow. I’m glad I decided to write about fall foliage as my first attempt was about our neighbor cutting down 6 trees in his yard so that leaves wouldn’t fall into his hot tub. But I can feel my blood pressure rise every time I think about it. And of course he is an elected official who claims to “speak” for the environment…just not in his own back yard… Grrrr.. Sometime in the future I will try to host this meme… Michelle

    1. Yeah, that’s always the way it is. You never meet an elected offical or greedy businessman who will come out and say “I really don’t give a damn about nature!” Everyone loves the pretty trees and mountains — unless they get in the way of progress.

  3. Hi, I found you through Crafty Green Poet. Your post is fascinating. I am now reading through some o the contributors. So much tree knowledge that give me so many more reasons to love trees. Trees have always been so important to me because of the way they make me feel, the sounds they make and they way they smell. Sentient aspects. I have ever delved so deeply, into the other aspects before. Thank you for letting me join in. I promise next months entry will be more light hearted. :) x

    1. Hi Jasmine – Glad you could join us. Yes, I think the FOTT has always tried to welcome all approaches; we’re not just a science-focused blog carnival. My hope is that the science-minded folks, the writers, the artists and the seekers will all find something of value in each others’ perspectives.

  4. Thank you Dave for all the hard work you have obviously contributed to make this happen. I will be bookmarking this page and sampling the tasty treats you have highlighted!
    Thank you too for mentioning ellabayforever from both me and the cassowaries that need these trees to survive!Take a bow Dave! Great work!

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  6. A wonderful festival. You’ve weaved together many wonderful posts, making it irresistible to follow the links of each story. Nicely done! Thanks to the festival, and your hosting, I am hooked on The Morning Porch, poetry, and all the other creative writers that I have discovered through this carnival. Thanks Dave. –Ellen

  7. Marvelous festival, Dave! I got lost following the links and enjoying the content and completely forgot to comment. I hope I can follow this presentation with something equally delightful. Thank you!

    1. No problem, Jason. I would hope most vistors would be too busy reading and commenting on all the other posts to comment here! Which is kind of what makes hosting blog carnivals unique, isn’t it? You might get a an upsurge of traffic and some incoming links, but the whole purpose is to funnel people off your blog. It’s the read-write web at its best.

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