Climate and SustainabilityClimate and Sustainability
In a changing world, people depend on trees, and trees depend on people.
A Vital Resource
Trees in a Changing Climate
The world today is changing rapidly, including changes in climate. Trees are needed now more than ever before. Trees provide many benefits. They cool cities; clean the air and water; improve human health; provide habitat for animals, plants, and insects; and beautify communities. The Morton Arboretum is working to ensure trees thrive as the climate changes, both in the Chicago region and around the world.
The Champion of Trees
Ensuring Resilient Trees for the Future
Trees are especially susceptible to changing conditions that support their growth and survival, such as temperature, precipitation, and seasonal fluctuations. Individual trees are rooted in the ground and immobile, and while populations of trees can move geographically, it happens slowly, over time. As growing conditions change rapidly, many trees cannot keep pace. Building knowledge about what climate change will likely mean for trees and using that knowledge to help trees thrive is central to the Arboretum’s work.
The enormity of climate change can be daunting. As unsustainable human resource use and impacts are damaging the environment and changing the climate, action is needed. Trees and people are part of the solution. The Morton Arboretum is committed to providing tools, best practices, and learning opportunities to inspire action for trees.
Whether in the heart of the forest or the city center, trees need the help of people to survive.
Frequently Asked Questions
Explore answers to common questions about trees in a changing climate.
The variation in rain, snow, sun, wind, and temperature experienced every day represents fluctuations in weather, not climate. Weather is the state of the atmosphere over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere “behaves” over relatively long periods of time. In general, discussions of climate refer to averages covering 30 years or more.
Changes in temperature, precipitation, and seasonal fluctuations significantly impact the growth and survival of trees and shrubs, the health of urban and natural forests, and the quality of life and the environment on which people depend. As these conditions change rapidly, trees cannot keep pace or move to a new neighborhood. Individual trees are rooted in the ground and immobile, and while populations of trees can move geographically, it happens slowly, over time. Since trees are immobile, they must be able to adapt to the changing conditions. Those that don’t adapt well are susceptible to stress. Arboretum researchers are studying the ways trees are starting to adapt, and how they have adapted in the past to changing conditions, to better plan for the future.
Contact the Arboretum’s free Plant Clinic if you have questions about specific trees. The Plant Clinic can offer advice on the best varieties of trees to plant for the future, looking at a variety of factors, including sun exposure and soil conditions. One simple thing that you can do to ensure healthy trees for years to come is to plant a diverse selection of trees matched to the appropriate conditions to help guard against the risk of targeted pests and diseases devastating a particular species of tree.
The Morton Arboretum works to ensure the future of trees through its plant collections, science and conservation, and education. The Arboretum studies, plants, and protects trees in its living collections, in Chicago-area communities, and around the world. Among many pursuits, it is evaluating and developing trees for projected future growing conditions, conducting threat assessments for key groups of trees around the globe, prioritizing species for conservation, and educating and equipping the public as tree advocates, planters, and stewards.
Trees are an important part of the solution to help address both the impacts and the process of climate change. Trees benefit people, communities, and the environment. The benefits trees provide are even more critical in a changing climate. Along with removing carbon dioxide (CO2) and pollutants from the air, reducing flooding, and helping manage stormwater runoff, trees also cool cities. By casting shade and giving off moisture from its leaves, a large shade tree can reduce the surrounding temperature by 10 to 15 degrees.