Even though my project with the Minnesota DNR Arbor Month Celebration (2016) was wrapped up a few months ago, I’m still mindful of trees and the health benefits they provide.

I’ve learned so much from the background research I did for the project — something I instinctually conduct.  The research may not directly affect my design approach, but I do feel the design is more authentic and thought out when I begin a project with research.

Back to the Trees. We’re lucky to live in Minnesota with its diverse landscape. Even at the prairie edges there are stands of poplar trees or an island of sturdy oak in the mist of an open field — a sacred place Native Americans revere. (So I have heard).

Below are highlights I discovered (or were shared with me) through out the Minnesota DNR Arbor Month Celebration project regarding the health benefits of trees and our interrelationship with them.

Urban Trees Density

Urban Forestry.

I didn’t know this was a field one could enter, but it’s fascinating. We take for granted that trees will do fine where ever they are planted. Truth is, it’s stressful for trees in an urban environment, especially for those who stand alone. They need the closer proximity of other trees to share resources and build resistance to disease among other stresses. (More on this later)

Urban Forestry looks for ways to keep trees healthy in our cities, improved soil mixtures to supplement a tree’s needs, to studying which tree species thrive best in urban environments.

Beyond the beauty and aesthetics trees bring to cities, there is an on-going interrelationship between urban forests and people. One such expert on this topic is Dr. Kathy Wolf, a Research Social Scientist with the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. 

One of her many studies reveals time and again that when people encounter trees and greenery in front of a retail setting, their perception of their shopping experience is enhanced. They perceive the goods for sale are of higher quality and willing to pay more for them. They feel the store employees are more pleasant and helpful. All this is due to their positive “tree forested” experience people had before entering the store.

Our urban forests are far more important to our well-being than an enjoyable shopping spree. Studies and observation shows that trees reduce noise by 50% making cities quieter. It’s found that tree lined streets make people drive slower. Tree lined streets with sidewalks encourage people walk more and for longer distances.

Hugging Trees

Hug Two Trees and Call Me In the Morning.

I also discovered another fledgling field, Ecotherapy. While it doesn’t replace standard evidence-based medicine, don’t be surprised if your doctor prescribes a walk in the park as part of your treatment. Our urban, technology-based life style has kept us from the great outdoors to the point that people are developing a “nature-deficit disorder.” Trees, as part of the great outdoors, play a vital role in our health and well being. Tree shade protects us from the sun’s harmful UV rays and can reduce air temperature by 10º. Their leaves control air pollution and for children living in neighborhoods with a high density of trees, their rate of childhood asthma is significantly lower.

Our mental well being is given a boost every time we walk in the woods. Exposure to forests decreases mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. Kids who get to play in nature are more relaxed and attentive, which improves learning and performance in school.

Spending time in natural settings, such as tree filled parks, improves recovery rates after surgery, are a positive distraction and help increase pain thresholds. Time spent in a forest doubles the activity of white blood cells that kill tumors and cells infected with viruses. While this last statement has some controversy, there’s little doubt that hiking through a forest boosts your immune system.

The 2009 Movie Avatar

Trees Have Social Networks.

Remember the 2009 movie Avatar? Well, it turns out that story’s not far off from reality. Scientific research and biology have discovered that trees in forests are social beings. Trees can count, learn and remember, nurse their sick neighbors, warn each other of danger by sending electrical signals across a fungal network known as the “Wood Wide Web.” This information came to me via a story posted on the New York Times about a German forest ranger, Peter Wohlleben and his book “The Hidden Life of Trees.” Taking the lessons from Wohlleben’s book, modern forestry can gain a better understanding of the nature of trees and how to improve tree care and forestry practices. Which in the long run, makes the world a better, healthier place for all of us. Which reminds me — I want to get copy of Peter Wohlleben’s book! Most likely I will be reading it under the shade of a tree.

SPECIAL NOTE: This project was done in partnership with project team leader and amazing marketing strategist Mary Pat McNeil of MP&G Marketing Solutions.

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