Trees are an essential part of our lives and the natural world. Establishing this arboretum supports our mission to enable our visitors to foster a better understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Trees serve numerous roles in our daily lives by supporting biodiversity, keeping us cool, reducing pollution, and by inspiring our creativity.
Sustaining Wildlife Biodiversity and Habitats
From colorful songbirds to the elusive red fox, Nashville is home to a fantastic and diverse range of wildlife that contributes to the biodiversity of our urban ecosystem. Trees ensure that many species of animals have places to grow their families and to keep the cycle of life going. All of the organisms living within this arboretum – from the tiniest insects to the tallest trees – are important to keeping the ecosystem in balance.
Did you know that Tennessee trees and plants support over two-thousand species of caterpillars? Yes, those little organisms feast on a diverse range of plants and metamorphose (change) into beautiful moths and butterflies. To support this important part of the ecosystem, planting specific plant species with the intention of supporting the food web helps restore and preserve as much diversity as possible. This means that places like our arboretum attract the most caterpillar species we can to welcome other organisms (such as birds who eat the caterpillars) and create the healthiest ecosystem possible.
Our goal is to responsibly manage the places in which we live, and to work to support healthy biodiversity. While you are walking through the arboretum, look for evidence of the biodiversity that is all around you and appreciate what these trees mean to everything that calls them home.
Minimizing the Heat Island Effect
For a tree, throwing shade is a good thing! Have you ever walked into a grove of trees and felt that the air was cooler? That’s because trees are also natural air conditioners. The shade of a tree’s canopy (the cover provided by tree branches and foliage) can significantly reduce the temperature near a tree. In some cases, scientists have recorded that a tree’s shade can be cooler by up to 45 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the temperature in sunny areas around the tree.
Trees also have their own built-in cooling system called evapotranspiration. This is very similar to the way humans sweat. Excess water is released from the tree’s leaves and as it evaporates, the tree is cooled, along with the air near them. As you walk around the arboretum, take note of just how cool the trees are and make you feel.
This is especially important in urban planning because reducing heat by planting trees can reduce the effect of “heat islands,” which occur when roads, buildings, and other infrastructure packed tightly together, creating an “island” that absorbs heat and re-emits it. Heat islands result in an increase in temperature of a given area; think about the nightly weather forecast. The city of Nashville records higher average temperatures than Ashland City. As a result of higher temperatures, more air conditioning is needed to cool the buildings within the urban area which increases pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Heat islands also influence our physical health. By causing higher daytime temperatures, increased air pollution, and poor nighttime cooling, they have a significant negative impact on people who are already at risk, including older populations, young children, and those with underlying health issues. Increasing the number of green spaces within these urban areas, such as this arboretum, reduces the heat island effect and improves the health of urban populations.
Making Cleaner Air
Leave it to the leaves! Planting trees in urban areas also improves air quality. As trees undergo photosynthesis, they take in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen, thus reducing the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Trees also aid in the removal of particulate matter (particles of pollution), which helps us breathe easier. Particulate matter levels are especially high in places near highways and factories, so having trees near these areas is helpful.
Improving Water Quality
Water has a long journey to get to your faucet, and you can raise a glass and thank a tree for that! Not only do trees reduce heat and improve air quality, they are also part of nature’s water filtration system. Water that passes through trees is filtered (cleaned) before being released back into the ecosystem. This reduces the cost and technical difficulty of treating drinking water.
Trees also keep water from being polluted in the first place. The worst pollutant of fresh water is sediment, or fine particles of dirt. Flooding displaces sediment that ends up in streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. The root systems of trees help keep sediment where it belongs and prevents it from becoming a pollutant. Soil stability created by a tree’s root system ensures a more reliable water source by regulating the speed that water can pass through the ground. Without their roots keeping soil where it belongs, water will not be absorbed, and heavy rainfall will wash the soil away and cause potential flooding. Planting trees and other plants near flood-prone areas can reduce the amount of flooding. While most of this work happens underground and it is difficult for us to observe this valuable water purification system, take a moment to appreciate the work the trees are doing right beneath your feet.
Providing A Natural Sound Barrier
You might see the interstate adjacent to the property, but you might not hear it as loudly as you would without the trees planted at our property’s edge. This is because trees absorb sound. Adventure Science Center is nestled between two major interstate systems that produce a lot of traffic noise; by using the trees to absorb some of this sound energy, traffic noise can be significantly reduced. Not only do trees reduce the unnatural sounds from the interstates, but they also create their own natural sounds that mask the traffic noise – such as leaves rustling and branches creaking. Try it! Put your ear up to a tree’s trunk, quiet your breath, pause, and reflect on what sounds you observe! As you walk and explore the arboretum, stop and listen. Can you tell a difference in the noise you hear when you are near different kinds of trees?
The Nature Conservancy
We know that trees are tough and resilient, but they can still use our help! By planting trees at home and being a good steward of urban land management and conservation of old growth forests, you can give trees a leaf up for generations to come! For more information about the benefits of trees, visit The Nature Conservancy’s website. The Nature Conservancy’s “If Trees Could Sing” project highlights recording artists who discuss and bring to life what trees mean to them. Listen to 8ball talk about the benefits of trees and Big Kenny on their beauty.