I once worked for a bush regeneration project in which I planted thousands of Australian native trees over the course of about six months. Despite the stinking heat and creature-invested dirt (including some rather deadly spiders and snakes), I loved every minute. I’ll never get tired of trees. I love looking at them, being near them, planting them, inking them, painting them and marvelling that they exist in our shared world, not for us, or because of us, but in company. They’re ancient Earthlings with deep ancestry and I’m not afraid to say I revere them.
Trees exist in huge numbers and visually dominate landscapes, yet globally, they are among the most threatened organisms. A report by the Global Tree Assessment presented results from an intense five year investigation in to the extinction risk of almost 60,000 species of trees; the report revealed 30% of species are threatened with extinction. You can read the full report here. That’s more tree species than exist in all of Oceania, a region which includes a continent, more than 10,000 islands, and spans two hemispheres . . . It’s a lot of trees and has devastating consequences for the organisms which rely on them. Considering that about 80% of land critters live in forests and that a single tree can provide habitat for a huge number of species of organisms, the potential loss of biodiversity is unfathomable.
A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by RC Gatti and others indicated there are about 73,000 species of trees, quite a few more than expected, with about 9,000 yet to be discovered – a good chunk of those are in South America. These undiscovered species are probably rare or from remote areas and are vulnerable to extinction too. It would be a tragedy to vanish without ever being described by science, especially since knowledge can aid in the conservation of these enigmatic trees. Consider the success of the Wollemi Pine, which was presumed extinct for the last 65 million years. In 1994, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Services Officer, David Noble, discovered a small number of trees while bush walking with friends. Thinking them unusual, he collected specimens, which were subsequently described and named Wollemia nobilis. There are fewer than 200 living wild trees, but successful propagation has now made it a commercial success. We have the knowledge and the resources to repeat this if and when necessary.
I don’t want to wait for Arbor Day (29 April) or the next International Day of Forests (21 March) to appreciate trees. Every day should be tree appreciation day. They need us now more than ever.