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The Power of One Tree - The Very Air We Breathe

Posted by Joanna Mounce Stancil, U.S. Forest Service in Forestry
Jun 03, 2019
Covering millions of acres of forested lands in the West, the Ponderosa Pine can grow to heights of over 200 feet. (U.S. Forest Service Photo)
Covering millions of acres of forested lands in the West, the Ponderosa Pine can grow to heights of over 200 feet. (U.S. Forest Service Photo)

The second in a series of blogs honoring the United Nation’s 2015 International Day of Forests

On Saturday, March 21, the U.S. Forest Service will celebrate the United Nation’s International Day of Forests. With such an important worldwide recognition of all forests do for us humans, the Forest Service would like folks to ask themselves: Do I really know how much trees contribute to my daily life?

Or, in another words, what is the power of one tree?

Just as we humans are comprised of many parts functioning together allowing us to do wondrous things, the anatomy of a tree is just as wondrous, empowering them with super hero qualities.

What am I talking about?  A tree has the ability to provide an essential of life for all living things on our planet – oxygen, and the power to remove harmful gases like carbon dioxide making the air we breathe healthier.

Here is how it works:

To keep it simple a tree is comprised of its leaves, stems, trunk and its roots.  When you look at a tree, note that about five percent of the tree is comprised of its leaves, 15 percent its stems, 60 percent goes into its trunk and 20 percent is devoted to its roots.

Here is the super hero part. Through a process called photosynthesis, leaves pull in carbon dioxide and water and use the energy of the sun to convert this into chemical compounds such as sugars that feed the tree.  But as a by-product of that chemical reaction oxygen is produced and released by the tree.  It is proposed that one large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.

Trees also store carbon dioxide in their fibers helping to clean the air and reduce the negative effects that this CO2 could have had on our environment. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, in one year a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen in exchange.

So next time you take a deep breath of air give credit to a tree or hug a tree in thanks for what it gives us – the very air we breathe.

Category/Topic: Forestry

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A student reader
Jun 02, 2019

I found a misspelling in the first paragraph of "how it works" it says Truck instead of Trunk. Not really a big deal...

Ben Weaver
Jun 03, 2019

@A student reader - thank you for spotting that. We've corrected that word.

Jun 10, 2019

Wow! Great information!

Ron Hoffman
Jan 08, 2020

Guess we better keep burning fossil fuels to feed the trees.

Feb 06, 2020

I would like a copy of this. I am so fed up with these big city people trying to tell the world what we need to be doing to “save the planet,” and yet the same people can’t mow down enough trees for houses, condominiums, and apartments!!!
Thank you so much for the information!

Feb 11, 2020

Hey, Is there any information about how much oxygen a tree consume during the night? As a kid I have bren told that plants are also breathing and I would like to learn the consumption rate of oxygen of one tree. Thank you.

Feb 13, 2020

"It is proposed that one large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people." My question is in how long? In a tree's lifetime? A day? A what?

Fanie Opperman
Mar 12, 2020

I am concerned and others, about the destruction of existing natural forests.....

Rishi Baradhwaj
Apr 27, 2020

I like this article. I'm interested in plants and photosynthesis.

Apr 27, 2020

Hi Rishi!!! I like it to and hope that we can help trees!

Amie P
Apr 28, 2020

This is why we need to plant more trees ?!

May 01, 2020

The oxygen that the trees produce is a valuable resource for humans all over the world.

Jun 02, 2020

I think that planting trees is very important. One tree can definitely make a difference and that's helping Earth.

Zayd Amin
Jul 27, 2020

Hello I’m Zayd Amin today I learned how trees give us oxygen this was a great artical I also think people are causing problems for the trees by cutting them down and not only animals won’t have a place to live it’s that we won’t have air to breath.

David Cliatt
Sep 06, 2020

I keep seeing, "48lbs of carbon absorbed every year". What is the poundage of oxygen released by a tree in 1year?

Sep 21, 2020

We need our trees as they need us. I'm so concerned of how COVID19 virus along with wearing mask has affected the cycle of carbon dioxide for the trees to release enough oxygen for us.
Our natural balance is being destroyed and also with Global warming.

Camylle Tremblay
Nov 01, 2020

Very timely post. I was talking to my grandson about oxygen and trees and was missing the full picture. This article will help me respond to him. Thank you

Nov 06, 2020

i was wondering if there was a way to simulate the photosynthesis process of a tree and apply that process to CO2-laden areas, thereby not only sequestering the CO2, but producing O2 for us as well

Margaret Koebke
Nov 13, 2020

For every tree cut down a new tree must be planted in the area. What this world needs to control climate change is more trees!

Nov 15, 2020

How do trees draw in carbon dioxide? What force is pulling that gas into the cells of the leaves?

wallace orcutt
Nov 19, 2020

since I have a lot of trees on my property I am glad to have read this article. i know that we exhale carbon dioxide but I was unaware that the trees absorbed so much. and released the amount of oxygen that it does.

Dec 05, 2020

So, the power of a single tree can basically give oxygen for 4 people and when the people breathe oxygen and exhale the carbon dioxide out, then the process becomes looped just because of the cause of a tree that consumes the carbon dioxide and gives the oxygen to the people. So that means trillions of people breathe clearly today just because of trees. Thank the trees, not me nor others! (and also give yourself a pat in the back for making this process loop)

Dec 05, 2020

We need more trees so everyone can breathe healthy so just don't cut way too much trees so we can save the world from breathing artificial air!

Dec 05, 2020

This is on-topic so I wanted to say that if we get more maple trees, there would be enough honey to cure coughing or something like that. So, there would be lots of honey and breathing too. I am not talking about the "Current World Event" at this time.

Jan 23, 2021

With a 4 to 1 ratio, can one determine how much tree area would be needed to reduce CO2 so that oxygen and CO2 are re-balanced and ergo reducing the risk of any future atmospheric/climate change? This may suggest that each country must maintain X-amount of treed area, thereby allowing Y-amount of CO2 producing industry ?

Dan Rundell
Jan 28, 2021

A large tree will absorb much more carbon than 48 pounds per year. The process is simple chemistry. Carbon is the building block of life as we know it. Any green living plant absorbs carbon dioxide, extracts the carbon and releases the oxygen. The process is called photosynthesis, and is powered by sunlight. The carbon is combined with water and other trace chemicals to form complex organic substances such as starch, wood, etc. If you take a piece of wood and heat it in a reducing environment (no oxygen) water will be driven off and charcoal will remain. Charcoal is a fairly pure form of oxygen. The only way a plant can get carbon is from the air through photosynthesis. Thus life depends on Carbon Dioxide in the air.

Feb 05, 2021

Thanks to my trees for my oxygen

Judith Baricar-Alpuerto
Feb 08, 2021

Would the size of the leaves of the tree matter to the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs? How many years can a mature tree store carbon dioxide? If a tree is cut down does it release the carbon it has stored up?

Thank you for your article The Power of One Tree.

Jerry Austin
Feb 08, 2021

Working to bring developers, builders and homeowners cutting edge green technology would really help in our advocacy to green living. Informative article. Lets go green!

Henry Bruneel
Mar 12, 2021

i was talking with by bro on how this works but i did not now how thanks for the info.

Dr. Ravindra Swaroop
Mar 20, 2021

I love trees, they keep me, my family and the society and the animals alive.

Robert Edvall
Apr 16, 2021

In one year, how much carbon dioxide does a mature tree release during the night?

Maryann Farrell
May 25, 2021

Thank you great post! I’m a wildlife advocate and I planted several gardens for all pollinators . Sometimes I have to pull a maple tree seedling from my gardens and I feel so bad and try to relocate it most times I love learning about all the new species I find in my yard.. as one person said - big city folks stop building 100’s of unnecessary stores we do not need and houses all over spilling into forests and pine lands. Love and respect nature ! If you’ve ever turned over an old log carefully, you’ll see an entire little world going on underneath. It’s fascinating the little tiny world with wood lice,
centipedes, worms, water bugs and so on.

Kevin Lee
Jun 23, 2021

Thanks for sharing. Now I see where the old saying "tree hugger" was derived from. I'm definitely hugging a tree today.

Kate Tanenbaum
Jul 04, 2021

I care deeply about the trees in my community. The trees in the City of New York live side by side with tremendous amounts of automobile emissions, air pollution as well as other toxic fumes. Photosynthesis should be a good fact that City dwellers are educated about. Thank you.
Our trees provide our country life support. Keep our city free of litter, please.

Eric Briner
Jul 17, 2021

How much carbon fuel globally does the sun produce each year?

Dave Matty
Aug 15, 2021

We see trees constantly being destroyed for roads, buildings, parking lots and burned down in forest fires. We should have programs to replace these trees and also study ways to improve the fire resistance of trees and the carbon absorbing ability. A little genetic engineering like we do with crops. I feel one reason some areas are hotter and dryer is because so many trees are destroyed like on the West Coast. Trees provided a cooling effect, a water shed, protection from the elements, dust collection, food for wild life and humans, elimination/conversion of a lot of CO2 and other gases, oxygen to breathe, etc. I do not understand in the fight against global warming, instead of saying everyone must stop doing certain things like using gas, we do not include a push for more and better trees in all vacant or open lands. I bet California is not pushing tree replacement in forest fire areas, just sitting back hoping nature takes care of it which is way to slow.. Who knows, it may make their heat problems a little less stressful, stop some flooding and improve water supply and air quality.

Phil Bremer
Sep 16, 2021

Phytoplankton in oceans and lakes produces 50 to 80 percent of the oxygen we breathe. Compared to trees, phytoplankton is the superhero, trees are the sidekick! Write about that!

Debra latzko
Oct 01, 2021

I learn a lot and so thank full for trees my town they build to ware houses to much flooding they need more tress to take on the water in Piscataway nj

Oct 09, 2021

What trees do the most good? Is it needle producing trees or leaf producing trees? Is it fast growing softwoods or slow growing hardwoods? How do bushes and grasses compare?

Oct 20, 2021

Here at Candlelight Cabinetry we give a tree to every homeowner that purchases a kitchen from us. If they don't want a tree we plant 10 trees in our national forest. To date we have planted hundreds of thousands of trees. This is just one of the ways we give back..

Rev.Dr.Herbert Evans III
Nov 01, 2021

If we each plant and maintaion one tree it will maintain us as we need oxygen and the tree needs us

Violet Akerlung
Nov 03, 2021

heya! thanks for the information, i needed it for my language arts project.

Matthew Maley
Nov 07, 2021

The photo shows "pine trees" but it is not indicated what types of trees may be best to remove CO2 . Also, some trees grow well in some areas but not in other. We have only 1/2 acre of land but have over 100 trees with 37 species represents. Our pines are not doing well but the Hemlocks do well. The rest of the trees are the typical Maple, Oak, Elm, Hackberry and some more exotic (Ginkgo) and a Black Birch that is not native to Cincinnati area. So, the conifers may have a function year round but during the cold months the other trees loose leaves and are dormant for several months. Thus, each area of the nation has specific "tree needs" and there should be information on the best trees to plant in specific areas (climate and soil conditions) to accomplish reasonable "rapid growth" to maturity and best CO2 removal. I see areas near us where individuals cut very large areas of grass. Looks nice but does not benefit CO2 removal, in fact adds pollution from the mowers. It would seem important to try to convince these land owners to become involved and plant trees. However, they would probably need help in obtaining the trees and possibly work with volunteers to plant them. In any case, more specific information is needed to indicate how individuals may be able to do "something" to help reduce the CO2 levels. It would seem that getting a person to just plant a tree would have a dual benefit: They become "involved" in the overall climate benefit effort and have a tree that will take some level of CO2 from the air.

Joanna Corfield
Nov 28, 2021

I love that so much. Thank you...always loved trees and now even more grateful to them.

Patricia Carl
Dec 11, 2021

This was a great article, we live up in altitude in Divide, Colorado. We live on 10 acres which is about 7 acres of forrest. Our Grandkids LOVE the trees a gift to us all during this time of our lives.

Gena Adams
Dec 17, 2021

I see so many vacant buildings like old Walmarts and other stores just sitting empty, but they continue to cut down trees to make room for new buildings. Why can't the older vacant buildings be remodeled and used again? I just don't get it.

Ed Mills
Feb 17, 2022

When a mature tree dies and falls in the woods, what is the rate of carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere? Does the dead tree release 48 pounds of carbon for each day that it was live, which is the amount of carbon dioxide the tree absorbed according to the article?

Ruth H. Givens
Mar 11, 2022

Mother Nature’s air filters, plants! Trees, naturally, without our constant efforts are natures life giving force. The entire animal kingdom is dependent on plants. Tree are beautiful in their variety, their flowers, and leaves, roots, bark and fruit. Plants are a big source of our food. House plants can filter air and produce oxygen inside. As forests diminish we humans must replace them to protect life on Earth. It’s hard to undo the damage being done, but planting trees is a great beginning!

Neela Penmatsa
Mar 17, 2022

An educational post.. Thank you! Mother nature that only knows to give and works its wonders through its silence. A mystery to me why it has taken us this long to realize it's value and our impact, when we are surrounded by it's beauty everyday.