The Value of Trees

Humans are innately drawn to nature. From a design standpoint, we’ve seen biophilia and wellness trends that focus on bringing the outside in through interior planting, easy outdoor access, and other amenities. The natural world has many proven benefits, such as positive effects on our mental and physical health and offering us respite from our often busy lives. Because of this, focusing on the exterior landscape is just as important as focusing on the interiors of a building. According to SMMA’s Landscape Architects, sites can strategically be designed to accomplish many goals that buildings themselves cannot. In fact, one of the most inexpensive contributors to these benefits is something we see every day: trees.

“In addition to their inherent beauty, one of the most fundamental things trees do is provide shade,” says Andrew Elliott, Senior Landscape Architect. “Something as simple as creating pockets where one can have protection from the sun helps the human experience on the most basic of levels. The strategic protection and preservation of trees is one of the very first things I consider when developing a project.”

Sustainable Roots

Trees are also a major part of the climate change solution. As the world continues to heat up, they can provide localized cooling and mitigate extreme temperatures. Depending on tree type, they can even aid in storm water management and erosion control. Root structures take up water from the ground, discourage soil compaction, and help maintain the soil’s ability to absorb water. They can also hold soils in place and prevent erosion. Furthermore, leaf canopies provide a large surface area where water can evaporate.

As extreme weather events become more and more common, all of this can help mitigate the damaging effects of major rainstorms and reduce the severity of flooding. The more vegetated the ground is with strong plants, the more resilient the site becomes. In the case of contaminated sites, designers are using tree types to help repair the soil through a process called phytoremediation. Trees that have extensive root systems can be used to stabilize and remove the contaminants in the ground.

“One of the reasons why I got into Landscape Architecture was due to its clear environmental standpoint,” continues Elliott. “We know development is going to happen, because humans have been altering their environment since the beginning of time. I decided that the best way I can help protect our world is to guide development in a way that works with existing ecosystems, aims to preserve the integrity of the natural environment, and creates people-centric places that encourage interaction with nature."
"In general, we know sites are more attractive when they have a lot of beautiful existing vegetation. But it’s our job to make sure we can champion the kind of thinking that shows the other benefits of this vegetation, and to keep our landscapes as intact and uninterrupted as possible. At SMMA, we work alongside architects and civil engineers in a real conscious effort to protect our landscapes. It’s been great to see everyone evolve and recognize that this is something we need to pay attention to.”