Avoid Tree Blindness

Avoid having ‘tree blindness’.

In late August The New York Times published an article by Gabriel Popkin called “Cure Yourself of Tree Blindness”. In honor of ‘leaf peeping’ season, where we often appreciate the color of the leaves but not the entire tree, I thought I’d do more research into tree blindness.

I admit to not knowing a great deal about trees. I can identify a maple tree, an oak tree only if it’s dropping acorns, a tulip tree and a magnolia tree if it’s in bloom. I feel guilty. I love trees. I have climbed trees, swung from trees, inhabited a tiny house built on tree limbs and sought shade.

Trees have significance far beyond simple enjoyment. As the largest plants on the planet, trees:

  • Provide us with oxygen
  • Improve our air quality by trapping dust and absorbing pollutants
  • Store carbon
  • Reduce noise
  • Provide shade from solar radiation
  • Preserve and stabilize the soil
  • Protect, shelter and give life to the world’s wildlife
  • Provide building materials for tools and shelter
  • Provide food in the form of edible nuts and berries

Trees can be identified by their shapes, leaves, needles, flowers, fruits and seeds, bark and appearance. There are several good online tree identification guides:

The Woodland Trust, a British non-profit, has a very comprehensive British tree identification guide.

The National Arbor Day Foundation has an easy tree identification guide called What Tree is That?:

  • Choose your region
  • Decide between Conifers or Broadleaf
  • Decide among Simple, Compound or Ginko leaves
  • From there questions become very specific – it’s fun!

In addition to everything else they do for us, many trees can also track history. Trees called “Witness Trees” give us clues to what might have been boundaries of farms, or the paths of roads. Witness Trees were present at key events in American history like the Civil War. Other trees are individually significant, like the Norway spruce called Old Tjikko, considered the oldest tree and plant on the planet. Fifteen of those famous trees are listed on the Mental Floss website.

9/11 Survivor Tree                                                                              9/11 Survivor Tree


The Hidden Life of Trees

Last year German Forester Peter Wohlleben wrote a bestselling book called The Hidden Life of Trees in which he argues that trees have innate adaptability and intelligence and are able to communicate with and heal other trees. By using their roots, they communicate and form their own underground ‘woodwide web’ with other trees. He claims that beech trees are bullies and willows are loners, but that in general, trees are very social. As David Hockney once said “Like people, trees are individuals.”

Take a tree blindness quiz from The Guardian.

There are many endangered trees and threatened tree species due to diseases, catastrophic events, climate change, pollution, harmful insects and deforestation. Read about the work that the Global Trees Campaign is doing.

For as little as $1.00 per tree you can adopt trees in your area or anywhere in the world. Google Adopt a Tree and you will see many opportunities to help.


If you enjoy leaf peeping, check out our article with some helpful software for your trip.

Fall Foliage and Some Helpful Technology