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Hug a Tree, no really

I met lots of marvelous trees in Costa Rica

Shade. Where would we be without it?

My front yard can be literally 10 degrees warmer then the back where a large sycamore dominates the landscape. Oh there are plenty of times I malign that tree; when I’m stuck buying “shade-loving plants”, picking up the debris it drops year round, raking, raking, raking.

But on a scorcher like today, I thank God for that big beauty!

And shade isn’t the only benefit of a large tree. Trees add value to your home, help save you money by cooling your property in the summer and shielding it from cold winds in the winter, not to mention the food and shelter they provide for wildlife.

Trees and forests are so important for our environment that the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates one acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. That’s enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people. Not only do trees help the air, they substantially improve water quality, resulting in less runoff and erosion which allows more recharging of the ground water supply.

In fact, tree value is no joke. It can actually be calculated using four key factors: tree species, location, condition and size.

Species: Some tree species are 'weedy' varieties and have much less inherent value than desirable ornamentals or quality hardwoods. For example, a Black Locust rates 30 % in species value; not near the species value of a White Oak, with 100% in species value.

Location: The old saying in real estate values is "location, location, location." That adage also applies to tree values. A well placed specimen tree in the center of your front yard has much more “real estate” location value than one that is located in native woodlands out in a rural area.

Condition: This factor takes into consideration the overall tree condition relating to structure, wounds, roots and anything else affecting tree vigor and health.

Size: The formula for scoring a tree is: Circumference (inches) + Height (feet) + ¼ Average Crown Spread (ft.) = Total Points In 1940, the American Forests organization created The Champion Tree Program to recognize the largest known tree of each species in the United States. American Forests publishes their National Register of Big Trees every two years.

I first became aware of Champion trees at Balboa park in San Diego. Cordoned off in the middle of the foot traffic was a grand, old magnolia. Her large, gnarly branches stretched as big as a house. Great creamy white flowers dotted her shiny green leaves and perfumed the air. There was a plaque there that told of her worth and her registry.

Sitting recently at a memorial service for a friend’s mother, I was reminded of that statuesque tree and I couldn’t help but think of the value that this woman’s life has provided for those around her. Sure, she was dependent on her family in the final season of life, yet she cast a wide umbrella that covered not only her own children but many of us who sat under her shade.

It wasn’t any one factor that made this “mama” valuable to us; for everyone who spoke at the celebration had something different to say. It couldn’t be measured and calculated, like you might a big tree, yet it could be felt – perceived in the temperature of the room – and we relished all that she'd done while we recognized that we'd lost a little of the canopy that kept us safe and tied together.

She was a champion for those of us who knew her. And while we mourn her passing, it encourages us to stand firm in our own families for the sake of those around us.

So, yes, hug a tree today, but hug or call or tell someone who provides you shade that you appreciate them just for being there.

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