Previous blogs have dealt with the economic benefits of a well landscaped yard, but now the U.S. Forest Service has confirmed the health benefits as well.
The Forest Service recently released its first national study on the broad-scale impacts of pollution removal by trees. Researchers found that trees are saving more than 850 human lives a year and preventing 670,000 incidences of acute respiratory symptoms. They value the human health effects of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion every year.
While the research centered on trees, all green plants reduce pollution to some extent, especially those with pubescent or fuzzy leaves. Trees just take on a greater percentage of the burden due to their size and the fact that woody stems sequester more carbon than smaller herbaceous plant stems. When designing a landscape, however, it’s important to balance aesthetics with health benefits and all other considerations. Plant aesthetics are what give us the enjoyment and serenity from our gardens. This requires a balance of woody and herbaceous plants. Otherwise, you would have a forest instead of a landscape.
Speaking of forests, it seems reasonable that pollution removal would be higher in rural areas than in urban areas. The researchers agreed with this point, but noted that the effects on human health are substantially greater in urban areas than in rural areas. They also noted that pollution removal equates to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, yet the impacts of that improvement are substantial.
Health effects related to air pollution include impacts on pulmonary, cardiac, vascular and neurological systems. In the United States, approximately 130,000 particulate-related deaths and 4,700 ozone-related deaths in 2005 were attributed to air pollution.
Study researcher David Nowak concluded, “In terms of impacts on human health, trees in urban areas are substantially more important than rural trees due to their proximity to people. We found that, in general, the greater the tree cover, the greater the pollution removal, and the greater the removal and population density, the greater the value of human health benefits.”
Applying these statistics to our own properties, surrounding ourselves with plants can reduce the pollution within our personal environments substantially. As you rake leaves and prepare your landscape for winter, survey your plant material from tree canopy all the way down to the ground cover to determine if it’s doing the job for you and your family. If it isn’t, use the winter wisely to meet with one of our designers to see what can be done to put your landscape to work removing pollutants and creating a healthy landscape for you.