Why Native Trees Matter
You can’t overstate the importance of trees. They serve an invaluable purpose as part of our planet. Trees produce oxygen and purify our air, they clean soil, help with runoff and erosion, and provide homes for all manner of wildlife. Even that incredible list doesn’t encompass everything trees do for us. Native trees have particular significance.
If trees matter so much, any tree is a good tree, right? Not necessarily. Native plants, including native trees, hold a special place in their local ecosystems. They’re not only perfectly suited for the environmental conditions – they help maintain them. Native wildlife, plants, soil, and the climate are all meant to work together to achieve (and keep) balance. By introducing non-native and invasive species, that balance gets upset.
This article dives into what native trees do for us and how we may ensure their survival. When we protect native flora and fauna, we protect the environment as a whole. As residents of planet Earth, it’s the least we can do!
The Benefits of Native Trees
The brief overview above barely touched upon the benefits of native trees. They heavily contribute to the biological success of an area. Let’s see how that works!
Homes & Food for Wildlife
When you think of animals living in trees, you probably picture birds. While trees certainly provide homes for dozens of bird species, other animals depend on them as well. Multiple types of animals eat nuts, seeds, and more produced by native trees. Here’s a glimpse at the sort of food these trees provide and the types of animals they sustain.
- Flower buds – In spring, native trees begin to flower. Several animals and insects like caterpillars, cardinals, mockingbirds, and squirrels dine on tender (and nutritious) spring flower buds, including those growing on native trees. Without them, they may struggle to fill out their diet. Of course, flowers are also incredibly important for pollinator species like bees and butterflies.
- Berries – Many of the same species listed above also love the berries that drop in spring and summer. All manner of birds and small mammals, such as squirrels, groundhogs, and bats, depend on berries in their diet.
- Nuts and seeds – Have you ever seen a chipmunk with its cheek pouches stuffed full of nuts and seeds? Those must come from somewhere! Creatures of all shapes and sizes use nuts and seeds to fill out their diets in the cooler fall and winter months.
Regardless of the time of year or a particular type of food, native trees align with the nutritional needs and digestive systems of local animals. They provide what they need, and the animals (in turn) help spread their seeds, pollinate, and generally help the trees live. That’s the beauty of a well-balanced environment, and you can’t have that without native plants.
Additionally, trees provide homes for many animals. Birds nest safely in the branches, but native trees provide the shade and ground cover other species need. Everything from salamanders to caterpillars depends on the sort of cover and support provided by these trees.
Native trees and other flora thrive and grow in local soil. They’re an integral part of maintaining its balance, as they add important nutrients to the soil. They’re critical to the nitrogen cycle and other nutrient cycling. By planting and maintaining native trees, we ensure the success of other plants. Better yet, we may rely less on other types of fertilizer and put fewer chemicals into our environment as a result. Our natural environment does so much of the work for us if we allow it!
Trees also help with soil erosion. Leveled forests offer the best proof of this, as those areas continue to deal with the negative effects of soil erosion and land degradation across the world. Without proper soil maintenance, we’re faced with disruptions in food production and the water supply, increases in phenomena like flooding and landslides, and rapid endangerment (or extinction) of plants and animals.
Cleaner Air and Water
Native trees are massive purifiers. They help to absorb and filter noise and air pollution, giving us all a healthier (and more enjoyable) environment. They’re also traps for the greenhouse gasses contributing heavily to global warming. With more of these trees and landscaping, we lower the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Our water supply benefits from native trees, too. They substantially reduce wastewater runoff, meaning we spend less time, money, and energy purifying our water. Native trees and plants also require less water and management, as they’re already perfectly suited to live in their local environments.
Introduced, alien species can become invasive. Invasive plants choke out the environment and take everything over. They may reproduce more quickly than native species, grow faster, or simply take up most nutrients native plants need. Regardless of the method, they take over the area and potentially destroy homes and food supply for wildlife, change the soil balance, and cause other negative effects in the process.
How to Find Your Native Trees
If you’re interested in planting native trees on your property (or want to remove non-native species), there are many resources online. The National Audubon Society offers a directory to search native plants with your zip code, and the National Wildlife Federation has a similar tool.
Once you’ve found native tree varieties, contact local or online nurseries! It may be difficult to find native plants in garden centers, but nurseries may offer better direction.
Part of living sustainably is knowing how to care for the environment around us. Planting and supporting native trees play a big role in that care, and the whole planet benefits as a result.
If you’re interested in learning more about native trees and plants, we’re thrilled to invite you to our Native Gardening class with expert botanist, Margie Hunter. Join us at Stoney Creek Farm and learn what you can do to bolster the population of native trees and keep your local environment healthy, balanced, and thriving! We hope to see you there!