The Ground We Walk On

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A Quick re-cap of the last two weeks of Earth For All Ages…We EAT because plants exist to start the food chain, and we BREATHE, because plants produce the oxygen we need. We would also not have earth as we know it without plants. Especially trees.

Trees are some of the most powerful and influential members of the plant kingdom. They essentially create soil through the action of their roots, prevent soil loss and erosion by stabilizing the surrounding earth, shade the soil so creatures large and small can survive without drying up, diffuse rainfall with their canopy of leaves while preventing erosion, enrich the soil by dropping leaves which decompose and fertilize the soil, and more.

I spent time with Ms. Tracy Gelner, an Environmental Educator at the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia, MD. who shared with me a bit of the complex ecosystem created by a single tree. Here are some notes from my very simplified version…

When the seed of a tree begins to sprout, the roots loosen the soil so that small microorganisms can move in. Billions of them. This attracts larger organisms like bugs, including earthworms and ants, which populate and enrich the soil. Channels created by these little creatures allow water to penetrate the soil more easily, so that nutrients can flow to the tree. This, of course, helps the tree grow and thrive and survive summer drought. The larger bugs and worms, along with improving the soil, provide nutrients for the growing tree and become food for birds and small rodents, who are then attracted to the area and which become food for larger creatures like foxes and hawks.

Above ground, the trunk, branches, leaves and flowers attract caterpillars, butterflies, aphids, ladybugs, moths, pollinators and a variety of birds. The shade of the tree cools the area, allowing other plants to grow below it. Decaying leaves fertilize the soil, enriching it for further growth and a wider variety of plants. If the tree bears fruit, the fruit will be eaten by even more animals – including deer, fox, raccoons, birds and bats, which will eat flying insects at night. The roots of the tree stabilize the soil, preventing erosion, while they soak up excess nutrients and decaying matter in the soil so it doesn’t seep into nearby waterways.

Humans get to enjoy the natural beauty, the cool shade, the sound of leaves rustling in the wind and the variety of birds and creatures that call that habitat home.

And that’s just one seed.

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