Vincent Van Gogh’s “Mulberry Tree.” Credit: Lewisha Jones
Through the ages and in all corners of the globe, people have looked to trees to make sense of our lives, honoring their transcendental qualities in a variety of ways. How has our interconnectedness with trees manifested itself? The answers are many, but these pages present just a few examples — culled from my own experience and that of others, including the research of Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, discussed in her book “Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees” — of how trees meet our needs at every level of human experience.
TREES AND OUR PHYSICAL SELVES
Our strong connections with trees may be based, in part, on the fact that trees and humans share similar physical characteristics. We stand upright, have a crown on top and mobile limbs stemming from a central trunk. The pattern of the tubular branches (bronchi) in our lungs is similar to the root system of many trees.
At the physical level, trees provide oxygen, food and other material necessities, such as paper and building materials.
Trees also provide physical security in the form of shelter, windbreaks and a sense of place — of rootedness. Humans have a strong preference for landscapes with trees or wooded areas. In the real estate market, we find that trees increase the property value of homes by four to 15 percent. In areas where 30 percent or more of the land is federally protected, employment growth over the last 40 years has been three times higher than average, and commercial areas with trees tend to attract more customers, who shop longer and spend up to 12 percent more.
Trees play a role in the context of play and recreation, as well. We use trees for crafting musical instruments and constructing boats and canoes. We have picnics under the trees and take walks through the woods. Eight of the 25 most popular tourist destinations in the United States are on National Park Service land.