Science and Conservation

How Do We Save the World’s Trees?

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September 17, 2021

Trees provide countless benefits to humans and nature, supporting the lives of numerous organisms within their reach. When a tree species disappears, it can cause a cascade of biodiversity loss—affecting anything from microorganisms and fungi to insects and mammals.

Over the last five years, The Morton Arboretum and its global collaborators have worked to assess the extinction risk of the world’s 60,000 tree species as part of the Global Tree Assessment (GTA). The Arboretum led or contributed to over 1,000 threat assessments en route to the GTA’s first major milestone: The State of the World’s Trees report

It revealed that at least one in three of the world’s trees are threatened with extinction. To put the situation into perspective, the number of at-risk trees is twice that of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles combined. 

How Do We Save Trees?

There is hope for the future of trees, but it will take the combined efforts of conservation-focused institutions like the Arboretum, along with the attention and support of individuals who understand the substantial benefits that trees provide to individuals and communities.

Fortunately, conservation efforts led by the botanical community worldwide have resulted in nearly two-thirds of all tree species being found in a protected area, and about three in ten are in botanical garden collections and seed banks.

Arboretum visitors can see this important work in action throughout the Arboretum’s tree collections. There are several conservation groves where threatened trees are being protected and studied. The Arboretum is able to continue its efforts thanks in part to the support provided by members, donors, and daily visitors. 

The newest additions to the Arboretum’s conservation collections include a small grove of young, fenced saplings along the connecting path between Main Trail Loop One and Meadow Lake Trail, near Parking Lot 2. These trees represent nine different species that are threatened in their natural habitats, such as an American-Chinese hybrid of the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) that was bred to resist the chestnut blight that decimated the species in North America. Other species represented include the Arkansas oak (Quercus arkansana) and Ashe’s Magnolia (Magnolia ashei). These saplings are a living insurance policy against extinction, and similar collections are growing all over the world!

The Arboretum’s leadership in the Global Tree Conservation Program involves working with organizations around the globe to protect threatened trees in their native habitats, including collaborations to protect oak diversity in Mexico and Central America—areas with very high amounts of threatened trees.

How You Can Help

The easiest thing you can do to help is to spread the word about the importance and benefits of trees. Being a member of The Morton Arboretum, donating, or visiting as a guest also helps make an impact on tree conservation. You can have more of a direct impact by volunteering to help manage and steward local forest preserves and natural areas, or by planting diverse tree species in your own yard or neighborhood. Together, we will ensure a greener, healthier, more beautiful world with trees.

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When a trip to the Arboretum inspires you to explore more, become a member to visit again and again.

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