Mar 21, 2019 - 3min read
In celebration of International Day of Forests, we’ve pulled together some of our favourite facts about the weird and remarkable world of trees. Whether it be their age, their ‘green-lung’ capacity or the fact they can ‘talk’ to each other, read on - it’s like an episode of QI but devoted to forests!
1. They’ve been here way longer than us
While most humans struggle to reach the ripe old age of 100 years, some trees such as Methuselah, a Californian pine tree from the White Mountains of Inyo County, have lasted nearly 5,000 years. While this particular tree’s location is a closely guarded secret it is no secret that trees have been known to last thousands of years and long surpass a human’s lifespan. These trees which have been around for millennia can teach us a lot about our own history.
2. Forests make up 30% of the Earth’s land surface
Many are aware that the Earth’s overall surface is made up mainly of water, but it is a little known fact that 30% of the land surface is made up of these beautiful natural clusters of forests. Despite the deforestation that still takes place luckily there is still much of the Earth’s surface which consists entirely of greenery, untouched by human interference.
3. Forests unite nations
The Amazon Rainforest is so vast that it stretches across nine nations: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. The largest forest in the world contains over 390 billion trees and is home to an estimated 2.5 million insects and 2,000 birds and mammals. This makes it one of the most habitable places for animals and trees in the world, another reason to love forests.
4. They protect rivers, lakes and streams
It is no coincidence that the Amazon Rainforest provides one of the largest watershed and river systems in the world. The natural cover from the trees which shields the streams and rivers running through the Amazon protects them from the sun’s radiation and from drying up entirely. Without forests we would lose a great deal of these natural sources of water.
5. Over 25% of medicines come from rainforests
We owe a lot of our good healthcare to the natural ingredients in rainforests across the world which account for more than 25% of all medicines in use. Whether it be the coca plant from South America which provides novacaine or the source of cortisone: the wild yams in Central America, the rainforest offers plenty of medical help. While much of the forests still remain unexplored, there is the potential that there are still undiscovered elements that could result in breakthroughs in medicine.
6. Forests are called ‘green lungs’ for a reason
Alongside forests’ ability to provide carbon, they also produce oxygen for animal respiration and help balance these two gases in the atmosphere. More than just something pretty to look at, forests manage to contribute to the general quality of the air we breathe in.
7. They don’t house just animals…
Many forget but these beautiful forests aren’t just the home of bears, deers and frogs, they also house 300 million people worldwide. This includes 60 million indigenous people who rely on these natural habitats and many more people who live on the fringes of these forests.
8. Forests act as natural barriers
Forests act as a natural windbreak and manage to shield wind-sensitive crops and in the process ensure that bees have an easier job pollinating plants. Noise pollution may be an issue in big cities with harmful levels of sound but forests also mange to get rid of this problem. Thanks to the large amount of trees, rustling leaves and birdsong this background noise can be cut to 5-10 decibels.
9. They enrich the soil
Thanks to the plants and trees that make up forests, the shredded leaves they leave behind help contribute to the recycling of soil nutrients. Another vital part of this soil enriching process is the roots of these trees. The roots manage to both break the soil into finer particles and minimise soil erosion which degrades the fertility of soil.
10. They can 'talk' to each other
Yes that’s right: trees can “talk” to each other. They communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via networks of latticed fungi in the soil. Ecologist Suzanne Simard compared this complex system with the neural networks in our brains which shines a new light on the intelligence of the average tree.
If forests are the lungs of the world, then our 3.17 million1 hectares here in the UK are particularly precious. That may sound like a lot but it actually only covers 13% of the UK - a far cry from somewhere like Sweden, where 69% of the land area2 is covered by forest!
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