Trees are one of nature’s real wonders. Besides from their beauty, they perform a whole range of essential functions which enhance our planet. They are capable of renewing and cleaning our air supply, regulating our climate, maintaining soil quality, and providing food, shelter and habitation for a countless number of the world’s inhabitants, making them fundamental to life on Earth.
Each individual tree has the ability to absorb the climate-warming carbon dioxide that humans breathe out, whilst at same time releasing the oxygen that we need to survive. As a result, it is undeniable that trees and forests form an integral part of our ecosystem.
Planting trees in your garden or neighbourhood can have a huge effect on the quality of life in your area. In urban areas especially, poor air quality can result from the pollution released by factories and in car fumes. Planting trees is truly one of the best things you can do in order to improve the air quality in your region and to help combat climate change.
But how exactly do trees produce oxygen, and which types of tree are most proficient at this task?
First of all, it is important to understand exactly how trees give off oxygen.
In a process scientifically referred to as photosynthesis, trees utilise energy gained from sunlight to create glucose, using rainwater and carbon dioxide from the air. The sugars produced are necessary to fuel the growth of the tree.
As the water molecules are broken down during this process, they release their oxygen atoms. These atoms can then pair up to create O2 - oxygen gas - which is in turn released into the atmosphere.
Whilst it is difficult to measure precisely how much oxygen any one tree produces, there are some facts which are undebatable.
The first of these is that trees with a high leaf mass, or in other words lots of leaves, naturally give off the most oxygen. This is due to the fact that they have a greater capacity to perform photosynthesis. The more leaves which are working through this process, the more oxygen that is produced as a by-product. This is also the reason why trees with a wide canopy are more effective at releasing oxygen, as they have greater exposure to sunlight and thus photosynthesise at a faster rate.
It is also the case that a tree which is still growing at a rapid rate will give off higher amounts of oxygen than a mature tree which is no longer in its growth cycle. This is because they require high levels of glucose in order to continue growing, which means that they are photosynthesising at a greater rate than a tree which has already matured. As we have already covered, this process of converting CO2 and water into sugars for tree growth produces O2 as a by-product.
In the same vein, those trees which produce their most wood during their growth cycle are also the biggest oxygen producers. This is because they will take longer and need greater levels of photosynthesis to reach maturity.
In terms of the most effective species for oxygen production, this is certainly an area that is still up for debate, as there are various factors which must be taken into consideration. For example, whilst in some climates a tree may grow to great heights, in another it may only reach a fraction of its potential. This means that a tree that is highly effective at producing O2 when grown in colder climates may be far less effective if considered within a warmer climate.
Another complication comes with deciduous trees. Whilst their leaves result in greater oxygen production than their evergreen counterparts as a result of their continuous growth cycle, the decomposition of their leaves at the end of each year in turn takes oxygen back out of the atmosphere, making it hard to measure their overall contribution.
Generally speaking, however, fast-growing leafy trees which produce a lot of wood are the best at producing oxygen. It goes to follow that smaller trees with fewer leaves and slower growth rates are the least effective at producing oxygen.
Pine trees rank highly – in particular the Monterey Pine which is capable of growing up to ten feet per year in favourable conditions. Other fast-growing species include the Fig tree, Eucalyptus, Locust trees, Chinese Elms and the Chitalpa. In addition, Fir trees of various kinds, Beech, and Poplar are all thought to produce high levels of oxygen. Redwoods, Oak Trees and Aspens are ranked as intermediate when it comes to producing O2.
Scientific work is being undertaken to produce genetically engineered trees capable of growing a whopping thirty-five feet per year. The height that would take a normal tree seventy-five years to reach could be achieved by such trees in just ten years. This could be set to have a huge impact on our environment, as we will be capable of re-growing forestation at a much greater rate.
Making up a fifth of the air that we breathe, oxygen is essential to our survival. On average, an acre of trees is estimated to be able to supply enough air annually to cover the amount needed for eighteen people over the course of a year. Without trees, over time the air that we breathe could not sustain our lives on Earth.
In addition, trees produce oxygen at the same rate that they absorb carbon dioxide, meaning that high oxygen-producing trees can have a profound effect on the environment. As carbon dioxide, or CO2, is pinpointed as the main contributor to the greenhouse effect, the ability of trees to extract this harmful gas from the atmosphere is pivotal in our fight against global warming.
Annually, one acre of forest is capable of absorbing the average amount of carbon dioxide produced by two cars over the course of a year. In addition, trees are able to lower air temperatures and filter rainwater through the process of evaporating water within their leaves. This makes them incredibly powerful allies when it comes to beating climate change and in improving the air quality of towns and cities.
Besides from helping the planet at large, planting trees in your garden or neighbourhood is a great way to enhance the air quality in your area. Trees can contribute to your overall health and well-being and come with a whole host of other benefits. So, if you have space in your garden, why not get planting today?!
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