Feeling powerless right now? Go hug a super tree. Feeling like doing something positive? Go plant a tree. Want to work out where is the best placement? Do our Permaculture Course. Every tree is a complex organism. It works all its life to provide clean air, healthy soil and a diverse community. But even more amazing, meet the trees with superpowers.
A ‘Super-tree’ produces flammable nuts, has leaves that can burn wet, produces abundant fruit, supports a web of life, grows large enough to live in, provides timber that never rots, survives thousands of years, supports a wild-life of fungi underground, and holds steep slopes on mighty mountains. Many can regulate the temperature around them by moving liquids up and down the trunk, dropping leaves, and expiring vapours to cool the air. Remarkably, some trees can communicate through their root systems for miles underground. Mature trees can even send out warnings and protective chemicals to protect younger trees.
Special Tree Powers
Trees provide Fuel, Food, Oils, Forage, Structural, Conservation, Carbon sequestration, Soil managers, animal barriers, and Fungal & Microbial habitats.
You don’t have chop a tree to get fuel. Solid fuel from trees sometimes falls naturally. The windfalls include flammable leaves, cones, nuts, fallen branches, harvested sap, and resin
David Holmgren writes that solid fuels are the most useful energy resource globally. We can plan for their harvest, they are easy to cut, require little training to use, convert easily to energy, are hard to steal or vandalise, and renew themselves.
Eucalyptus leaves have the power to burn whilst wet. Even more amazing, diesel and petroleum trees have nuts that burn like candles. Meet the Brazilian tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii commonly known as Capaiba (Tupi Indian word cupa-yba). It is several powers. This ‘diesel tree’ is also a soil-enhancing legume. The resin is tapped sustainably like maple trees. Another, Pittosporum resiniferum, provides a form of n-Heptane.
In the end, most trees produce woody material suitable for the generation of BioGas fuel. This means alternative wood-based fuel is available without killing trees. Coppice or pollard instead of felling.
More than 80% of the world’s food species came from the rainforest. Fruits, nuts, tea, coffee, chocolate and alcohols such as cider come from the bounty of trees.
The permaculture food forest usually intercrops fruit and layers of nut trees. We use strong food trees to support vine crops and short-lived trees act as nurse trees to maturing species. Tall evergreen trees are positioned in the shaded corner of the orchard and often used as wind-breaks.
Herbal, medicinal, culinary and cosmetic oils come from trees. These include Eucalyptus, Pine, Olive, Avocado, Walnut, Pecan, Almond, Cashew, Macadamia, Frankincense and Myrrh and Neem.
Teatree is a hard-working fungicide (ok, it’s a shrub but deserves a mention.) Coconuts are not really trees either but they are tall, fragrant, yummy and an excellent make-up remover.
Furthermore, tree oils such as Tungoil (Vernicia fordii) when mixed with the natural cleaner and thinner Limonene (oil of citrus fruit peels) is a beautiful floor polish and useful for coating and preserving woodwork.
Fodder is an excellent food for grazing animals. The art of fodder planting almost forgotten conventional farming. Many trees provide excellent, nutritious fodder for animals. Fodder from trees is available during dry years. Fodder trees can be grown as living fences,(applied at Avonstour) hedges or as shade trees in the corners of paddocks. The tree roots can extend deep into subsoil, mining minerals that grasses may not reach.
Cattle browse and shelter beside fodder trees. Their manure is happily filtered by the abundant layers of forest shrubbery and leaf litter beneath. Forage Examples include: Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush).
Above all, fodder trees provide food, shade, windbreak, pollution filter and living fences. Forage Examples include Oak, Poplar, Acacia aneura (Mulga), Albizia Julibrissa (Leguminous, deciduous, fast growing, regenerates) and Dodnaea viscosa (Hop bush). Better still, plant a guild of native trees to support wildlife and local fungi.
5. Structural Trees and Timber
Many trees grew large enough to shelter a traveller. Plato wrote about trees in his homeland, Greece, that were too big to put his arms around. Few large trees remain there. Shipbuilding claimed most of the great trees of Plato’s era. But still today, trees war and poverty continue to destroy trees.
Throughout the eras, material from trees has provided us with complete houses (roof shingles, frames, and plastered wattle walls), canoes, ships, furniture, garden tools, the first cars, musical instruments, cricket bats, rainboots, clothing (silk, rayon, viscose) and much more.
6. Wildlife Habitat – Our Bank of Genetic Capital
The conservation of wildlife habitats makes good economic sense as well as ethical sense. Healthy forests as a bank of diverse genetic material. Most of the plants, insects have not yet named. Their potential lies undiscovered. Surviving forests require nothing from mankind except respect. They are a self-supporting bank of unknown resources.
Humanity may be able to create clean air, water, soil, and mine more nutrients. But we can’t recreate genetic material.
If, and when, we did discover how to recreate genetic material, a lot of creativity, science, and energy would need to be invested. It is cheaper to safeguard the genetic material existing today.
7. Carbon Sequestration
Trees are the cheap. They work day and night as long-term storage units soaking up excess carbon. They help mitigate or defer global warming and slow climate change. But recent research is showing that some trees are hitting their limit of absorption. This startling situation demonstrates we need more trees to combat the growing climate crisis.
Long-living trees are excellent guardians of carbon. Many trees live thousands of years (including olives) however, clonal colonies of trees have the potential to be immortal.
The oldest known clonal tree is Pando, an 80,000-year-old colony of Quaking Aspen. Unfortunately, the tree releases sequestered carbon when it dies. So, we need long-living self-replicating plants.
8. Soil Management
Trees hold the banks of steep slopes, trap centuries of silt, create their own rain and micro-climate. Forests release particles that seed the clouds to help make rain. In the garden, this process of soil enrichment can be accelerated with Huglekultur, Synergistic gardening, and Biochar.
Garden Mounds with Wood
Austrian, Sepp Holzer, pioneered Huglekultur for raised beds. The wood in the base of Huglekultur mounds holds moisture, builds fertility, adds height. This provides more surface area for intensive gardens growing vegetables and herbs. Similarly, Synergistic garden mounds, developed first by Emilia Hazslip, can also incorporate wood. Position mounds to harvest rainwater, deflect frost, create various microclimates, and slowly move the water through the system.
Soil Enrichment with Wood By-products
Biochar, formerly known as Terra preta, is low temperature-carbonized biomass commonly made trees. For thousands of years, it has been the lifeblood of native south-American intensive agriculture. They convert lumbar into a habitat for the accelerated growth of soil micro-organisms. Activated charcoal also sequesters carbon.
Biochar can be made as a by-product of heating the home. We make biochar in our fuel stove using a loose lidded container inside the firebox or by covering the flames with ash before going to bed. Ash from the fire is separated from the charcoal. We turn the charcoal into biochar by crushing it in a bag when cool then adding it to the compost toilet mass.
Ash is another value byproduct. It is an excellent source of insulation material. Or it can provide valuable nutrients and pH modification to garden beds and poultry house floors.
9. Animal Barrier Systems
Hedges are the strongest, longest-lasting, and most durable fences. Nature is free and choatic. But not all hedges need to look messy. In fact, when the edges are neat, most people think the garden looks tidy. Few people look inside a hedge. Behind the scenes, diversity thrives.
Hedges can be trimmed to sit up off the ground, allowing small creatures to pass underneath but block out larger animals, people, and cars.
Hedging in England is an art form, with quirky regional variations. In Dartmoor, the trunks of young trees are half-cut and pushed horizontally. Similarly, each sapling gets half-cut and tipped onto the previous sapling. In time, the side branches start to grow upright. This method makes a thick and durable fence providing habitat for wildlife such as insect-hungry birds.
10. Fungi and Microbes
Incubation converts tree sugars into energy. Paul Stamets shows how mushrooms can save the world by providing a usable energy source for domestic and commercial systems.