Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner – Remembering the value of trees

Local columns 

Jun 12, 2021

Linda Eve Seth


My mother, a wise and unconventional woman, was in many ways far ahead of her peers and her times. Back in the 1950s, our urban N.J. home was surrounded by lovely flower gardens, lush greenery, huge shade trees, and numerous fruit trees. (No one else in our neighborhood had fruit trees!)

The interior of our home was filled with houseplants. I used to marvel and complain that every room except the bathrooms had numerous plants on the tabletops, window sills … virtually every flat surface. When asked about the presence of all that greenery, my mother would explain that plants improve the air quality and it was a good idea to have plants in our home, and trees all around us, because they helped us stay healthy. At the time, it seemed like a bizarre notion.

My mom has been gone for several years, but if she were alive, I am sure she would have been quick to jump on the climate change /environmental awareness bandwagon. It turns out she was right: PLANTS IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE.

No existing, human-made air filtration system has the ability to create oxygen. Oxygen is a critical element of clean and healthy air. Indoor plants create oxygen. Plants clean the air through the process of photosynthesis. We humans breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide; plants do the opposite. During the process of photosynthesis, plants take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we breathe.

Studies from NASA reveal that plant-filled rooms contain 50 to 60 percent fewer airborne molds and bacteria than rooms without plants. And a cleaner environment is just the start. An NBC news report pointed out that “indoor plants improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress levels and boost your mood.”

Consider now — TREES.

Trees create a peaceful, aesthetically pleasing environment. Trees increase our quality of life by bringing natural elements and wildlife habitats into urban and suburban settings.

Trees improve water quality, and reduce flooding and erosion. A tree’s leafy canopy catches precipitation before it reaches the ground, allowing some of it to gently drip and the rest to evaporate. Tree roots hold soil in place, reducing erosion. In these ways, trees lessen the force of storms and reduce the amount of runoff into sewers.

Urban trees provide a cost-effective solution to improving air quality in our cities. The pores on the underside of tree leaves are effective in removing sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic carbon. The leaves’ upper surface intercepts airborne particulates, contributing even more to a healthy urban environment. It was estimated that trees in Chicago, for example, remove approximately 234 tons of particulates annually.

And trees give back even more. Remember photosynthesis and the fact that it releases oxygen? Studies reveal that one mature tree yields enough oxygen for four people EVERY DAY. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.”

Trees contribute to their environment by providing oxygen, improving air quality, conserving water, preserving soil, and supporting wildlife. Trees, shrubs, and turf also filter air by removing dust and absorbing other pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. After trees intercept unhealthy particles, rain washes them to the ground.

Trees control climate by moderating the effects of the sun, rain and wind. Trees lower the air temperature and reduce the heat intensity of the greenhouse effect by maintaining low levels of carbon dioxide.

Trees mitigate the impact of climate change, and plants do, indeed, improve the quality of life. As usual, my mother was right.


Linda Eve Seth, SLP, M.Ed., is a mother, grandmother and concerned citizen. She is a member of MOVCA.