Words by Kirra, 21 VIC
My most resonant childhood memories are times spent in nature. With my hands in the dirt, or up a tree looking out over the canopy, I have always felt drawn to trees – captivated by the knowledge that they existed long before I was born and will continue to thrive long after I die.
Trees always felt precious to me, and I continue to find myself feeling calmed by their presence. But unfortunately, due to natural disasters and unsustainable forestry practices, large numbers of our country’s trees are disappearing.
So, what should we do? And why should you care?
Australia’s diverse natural landscapes are dotted with unique trees, such as the broad bellied bottle tree, the rambling rooted rainforest fig and the strikingly citrusy, lemon-scented gum. Each of these holds a unique beauty and purpose in the environment.
Native trees act as a habitat and food source for indigenous animals, by providing pollen and nectar to local pollinators, and creating hollows for birds and marsupials to nest in. Trees are also responsible for regulating our air quality and temperature, as they feed off carbon and convert it into oxygen for us to breathe, whilst simultaneously keeping our atmosphere cooler through the process of evapotranspiration.
These qualities alone are reason enough to compel someone to love, nurture and protect Australia’s native trees. However, after recently reading a novel named ‘The Overstory’, written by award winning author Richard Powers, I realised that trees do so much more than I imagined.
Whilst ‘The Overstory’ is fictional, it is interwoven with threads of real-world research on trees and forests. From this book, I learnt that trees communicate with each other – signalling members of their kind to put up defences when under attack by pests or disease. Water and nutrients can even be shared between different species, through underground systems of mycorrhizal fungi. So not only do trees keep us cool and help us breathe – they also feel and communicate!
I was thrilled to discover the capacity of trees to behave in a sentient (or at least intelligent) manner, as it validated my connection to these immensely beautiful and useful plants. At risk of sounding like the Lorax, the trees really do need more people to care about them. Whilst there is still so much we don’t understand about trees, we can be sure that the existence of trees is crucially important to the health of our planet and its inhabitants. They are worth fighting for!
There is an old Chinese Proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”
National Tree Day is Sunday 31st July. To get involved in a tree planting event near you, head to https://treeday.planetark.org/ . Or alternatively, head to your local nursery and buy a tree or two to plant in your backyard this weekend!
I believe that planting a tree can be a revolutionary act of kindness – serving both the planet and mankind. As young people living in a climate crisis, we stand to benefit immensely from the carbon absorption ability of trees. Furthermore, the trees we plant today hold the potential to form a love of the natural world in the hearts of future generations.