Tree functions serving mankind

April 8, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Doug Skeates

As a tourist visiting Florida many years ago I was introduced to a new taste, orange blossom honey. 

It is well known that bees pollinate garden plants but it hadn’t occurred to me that trees also bloom and fruit trees as plants are no exception.  Back home one scientist at Maple concentrated on honey production on his own farm bringing samples from his farm in southwestern Ontario to other staff members, the most unique example being basswood honey when that species flowered.

The latest issue of the National Geographic had one small article on DNA testing of honey from apiaries in several American cities.  A surprising observation was identification of the source of pollen being a high proportion honey derived from Linden and Sumac (the common Linden best known here as Basswood). 

We are familiar with Maple sugar as a food component but generally trees aren’t equated with food production in the public’s eye despite the fact that a high proportion of Canadian fruit diets include apples, pears, peaches as well as oranges, lemons and limes from the southern states.  Figs, dates, mangoes. pawpaw and a whole host of other fruit species are collected from trees around the world.

The basis of Forestry in North America has centered on  physical wood products and logically most forestry research is geared toward that direction.  The above-noted colleague had an agriculture degree before going into forestry.  He was seen by other researchers as a ‘nuts and honey’ forester and was closely associated with walnut production in the province’s south-west.  It took a visit to Georgia  before I encountered large-scale pecan production.  On a personal basis I was familiar with collecting butternuts to add to home-made ice cream.   In Surinam experience was more about producing almonds.  The relevance of trees contributing to human diets is endless.

Production of plants, including the food required by mankind, is dependent on availability of adequate water.  Desert encroachment is one limiting factor threatening food security of food in many parts of the world.  News reports about the Great Green Wall of Africa illustrate the potential of trees to provide a solution.  This is momentous for the area of the Sahel.  Countries across the 8,000 kilometre width of the continent have agreed to establishment of a 15-kilometre treed belt of marginal agricultural land south of the Sahara Desert.  Implementation to date is showing rising water levels in wells and indications of increased food yields as well as improved prosperity for people who once suffered from poverty.  We have seen this at home with ecological rehabilitation through tree planting of desert lands of Ontario’s Oak Ridges.

The greatest contribution that plants perform is utilization of atmospheric carbon emissions responsible in part for the problem of global warming affecting dramatic changes in global climate patterns.  Tree crowns shade provide insulation for soil over a significant area of land reducing re-radiation of heat.  Leaf fall contributes to litter adding to soil organics and ground storage of carbon.  Trees sequester close to a quarter of the carbon that mankind pumps into the atmosphere storing it as wood in the form of annual rings over many decades.

Prosperity can’t be measured in economic terms alone.  Quality of life in urban centres is enhanced by tree cover.  Shade on hot summer days and shelter from winter storms are valuable as barriers to the dust of traffic as well as minimizing the noise of passing vehicles.  Visitors from Toronto have commented about the difference in air quality experiences they encounter in rural Ontario.  Others have noted the high incidence of pneumatic problems for city dwellers, including reported high premature death rates due to air pollution.  There is no way of evaluating the value of birds singing, squirrels jumping from branch to branch or the peace and quiet of afternoon tea in an urban forest setting or in city parklands.

Mankind faces many problems the most severe relating to supply of resources, elements meeting basic human needs, what we eat, drink, breathe and encounter as  living conditions.  The relentlessly increasing migration of people to cities emphasizes  world shortages of essential resources needed to maintain the human race.

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