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Published: April 25, 2013
Arbor Day, usually celebrated on the last Friday of April by planting a tree, also calls attention to how important trees are in our every-day-lives. They contribute to the three "E's" of daily living:
1. the environment,
2. regional and national economy on both small personal and large scales,
3. and least thought of and least realized is the effect of trees on our day-by-day physical and emotional health.
Although all three aspects are important, perhaps most newly important is the link between trees and human health. Evidence is increasing from multiple scientific fields that exposure to the natural environment can improve human physical and emotional health.
In a new study detailing the effects of the emerald ash borer beetle on residential trees, released in January 2013 by the U.S. Forest Service, the presence of trees was definitively associated with human health. The study, "The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health: Evidence from the Spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, was published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The emerald ash borer beetle took hold in Michigan in 2002. When the U.S. Forest Service looked at mortality rates in counties affected by the emerald ash borer, they found increased human mortality rates. More people died of cardiovascular and lower respiratory tract illness, the first and third most common causes of death in the U.S. As the infestation increased, the connection to poor health strengthened.
Five other aspects of trees positively affecting human emotional health come from the Davey Tree Expert Company. These suggest that:
1. Hospital patients that see trees need less medication & have faster recovery times following surgery. This corresponds with the 1984 publication "View through a window may influence recovery from surgery" by Roger S. Ulrich in the journal Science.
2. Studies show that trees help us humans feel peaceful and secure as they bring a bit of nature into our environments. Community trees are vital to community health. Literature such as Toni Morrison’s novel "Beloved" supports this time-honored view. In the novel, Morrison uses trees to symbolize comfort, protection and peace.
3. Trees reduce levels of domestic violence and foster safer, more sociable neighborhoods. "Do Trees Strengthen Urban Communities, Reduce Domestic Violence?" published by W. C. Sullivan, Ph.D. & Frances E. Kuo, Ph.D. in January, 1996 strengthens this aspect of human emotional health.
4. Trees bring people together; neighborhoods become stronger with shady streets and parks. Trees cast shade in the evenings that encourages residents to enjoy walks and bike rides in their neighborhoods. Trees slow drivers because they make them feel enclosed in the tree tunnels.
5. Finally, neighborhood tree plantings are events that allow neighbors to get to know each other and form new relationships.
Trees may indeed bring people together and facilitate emotional health.