The Breathing Tree


Last week on EFAA, we opened with a reflection on the amazing phenomenon that trees convert sunlight into their own food, starting the food chain that ends up as the variety of tasty items on our plates.  As we inhale and get ready to take a bite, let’s also take a second to appreciate that plants, especially trees, provide the air we breathe as well.

This sort of natural magic is going on all around us, but do we really think about it?  Do we protect and respect it? Trees not only create themselves out of sunlight and raw materials, manufacturing our food in the process, they also provide the air we breathe…and clean it for us.

While making their own food, trees emit oxygen as a by-product. Oxygen, of course, is what all living things in the animal kingdom, including us, need to survive. This means that without plants, we would have no breathable air. Trees produce a huge amount of earth’s air. The tropical rain forests are sometimes called the “Lungs of the Earth,” because they produce so much of the planet’s oxygen. Wind currents carry the oxygen around the world, not unlike the blood stream in our own bodies, carrying oxygen around to all the living cells.

To top it off, while they are emitting this wonderful oxygen, trees take up the carbon dioxide that we breathe out, as well as other pollutants in the atmosphere. They act as natural filters, pulling tiny particles out of the air and converting them into less harmful substances. And those humid hazes that surround cities, trap heat, reduce visibility and add to health problems? The water vapor produced by trees during their respiration helps the haze to condense into clouds and rain, clearing the sky.

And then there’s the land that has been stripped of trees and other vegetation. It winds up dry and dusty. It becomes inhospitable to other plants and animals, and a possible source of wind-blown dust storms, which adversely affects how we breathe.

We need trees. Lots and lots of trees.

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