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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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Di Ziggy
Mar 18, 2022

It bothers me that I hear schools, politicians and the news talking about "the Green New Deal" the problem is none of their sugguestions for saving our planet, does nothing for saving a tree much less our forest.

Ann McMillan
Mar 31, 2022

Hi there, tree geek here. Could you include some equivalency data? Such as how poundage of CO2 relates to daily life. Gives numbers that show how much a car that drives 13 k miles a year puts out, or the equivalent of x plane rides between Paris and new york for example. Without that extra step the article is not useful to someone who is not a chemist.

Doretta Dover
Apr 12, 2022

Smokey the Bear said one tree generates enough oxygen for 10,000 people. So why is it now only four people?

Apr 22, 2022

this artical left out how all plants do this , but it left out how much all plants and trees release carbon dioxide back into our atmosphere through respiration, and how. deforestation is increasing the amount of this back into the atmosphere which is compounding the amount of global warming . you cant talk about one part of there job and omitt the other.

Apr 22, 2022

this article also omitted the fact that our oceans actually prduce 50-80 % of the worlds oxygen. In part with proper management ( replanting and harvesting have to be managed properly world wide. the minimize the effects of respiration to keep our world overall atmospheric conditions that are the leading factors in global warning ; which in turn is why the desalination of our oceans which in turn adversely effect our climate . the natural balance of fresh and salt water and our oceans temps as well excellerating the overall effcts of global warming . not to mention the all the species of animals that are lost through deforestation. then add in pesticides to this problem leaching into the worlds fresh water supplies. but this is a massive problem that all citizens should be aware of and be apart of the solution by not using chemistry for insect removal as well as look at the over all area that your dwelling takes up and calculate how much you need to replant instead of say putting in a pool or a larger lawn area. Trees and shrubbs , but evergreens continuesly do the heavy lifting as it takes photosynthesis to absorb co2 and replenished o2. thats why the boreal forrest which spans 3 continents is so important for our survival on earth.

May 01, 2022

Thanks so much for this- really useful! :)

Mike Ferlita
May 03, 2022

Good morning

I want to plant a tree/plants, etc. in my yard in Tampa, FL. I would like to select the most oxygen-productive trees and plants possible. Where can I find a guide appropriate for my geographical area?

Thank you very much.

Mike Ferlita
Tampa, FL

jenny pinto
May 11, 2022

great information, but you missed a very very big service trees and all plants provide the planet through photosynthesis.

it's simply this: all life needs energy to live. ONLY through photosynthesis, does the sun's energy reach all of us on the planet. and ONLY green plants can perform photosynthesis.

so it's not just oxygen that trees provide, but energy and food as well!

and when i mean us, i mean all living creatures.

Philip J Gardner
May 20, 2022

Slow down global development , live responsibly with our Earth , plant more trees , stop the destruction of the rain forests & farm with ecological intent .

Denise Grover
May 25, 2022

When you cut branches off the tree, less photosynthesis takes place, since carbon dioxide comes in through the leaves/needles of the trees and oxygen is given off into the atmosphere through the needkes/leaves. Those pictures show a lot of branches gone which doesn't help keep our air healthy.

Augustine Tembo
Jun 18, 2022

Really encouraging to plant more

James Fiore
Jun 20, 2022

I have always loved trees! As a young man I worked as an arborist. Pruning and caring for many varieties of life giving trees. I am thankful for their filtering the air we breathe
And shading us from the sun . I love the birds that nest in branches. I am so happy to be here in Maine among the forest of trees

Richard Ambre
Aug 02, 2022

With all the destruction of trees, specifically leaves across the West what will be the impact to O2 levels?

Georgia H. Rooks
Aug 13, 2022

If trees benefit the earth in such a positive way/ why are we not reserving more trees? Forests are been depleted, animals are forced from their Habitat. I do not understand why we are so smart yet so unwise. It's like we are saying we are the now or present people and forget about our descendants. Every time I take a ride in the country, I see the slaughtering of trees. Trees are our friends. I love nature. I know sometimes trees have to be cut down, but we are going crazy cutting them down and we are cutting our lives short.

Tim Roberts
Aug 27, 2022

I wish more people knew how important tree are. I say anything about saying trees or ask why would you cut that tree down. Now I tell people you're gonna regret cutting them down when we start running out of oxygen and water.

Cheryl Booyse
Sep 11, 2022

I love the fact that you use terms such as, " powers like super heros". I have just celebtrated my birthday with my 6 year old learner and our theme was Super hero extravaganza. The had to first draw the super hero and then with the help of the parents find out what valuable life lesson they learn from them. This info of your is the cherrie on the cake because we are also celebrating Arbor Week and this info of yours will help them remember the importance of trees almost like in forever because of their super powers. Than you.