Humans have a hard time sleeping because of electronic distractions, 24-7 streetlights, and stress. It turns out that other living things — trees, specifically — don’t sleep well in modern times, either.
Trees need some serious shuteye
Streetlights and everything else that makes a city hustle and bustle are messing up trees’ sleep cycle. Peter Wohlleben, author and forester, wrote a book, “The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World”, about this disturbing modern reality.
Wohlleben has studied forests since 1987 and has built on his knowledge ever since. The book, which came out in 2016, isn’t the only bit of literature to discover this finding. For example, a recent (2016) European Commission funded study published in the Journal of Ecology found that artificial light affected when trees’ spring buds burst, leaves’ coloring, and when trees shed leaves.
“[The] study concluded that changes in trees’ annual rhythm of producing leaves and blossom attributed to artificial light ‘may have significant effects on [their] health, survival, and reproduction’”, The Times of London reports.
Throughout the book, Wohlleben describes trees with human characteristics. He does so to enhance readers’ understanding and to help people connect with trees’ plight. So, when Wohlleben explains that trees suckle their children, and that their lack of sleep can shorten their overall lifespans, humans get it.
In addition to a shorter lifespan, urban trees also face other obstacles:
- Urban trees’ roots struggle in the harder soil that resides under sidewalks.
- Urban trees also are hit by heat that comes off city streets and buildings.
- And urban trees don’t have access to “shared forest microorganisms that helps the plants collect nutrients and water,” Treehugger reports.
What cities can do
First, Wohlleben suggests an obvious change: cities could turn off lights at night. This change could also help save electricity and decrease light pollution.
Second, cities could better plan how and where trees are planted. Some trees need more sun to thrive and others need more shade. Cities also could address tree root issues by using more porous materials when laying sidewalks and building structures.
And finally, city planners and people could merely practice being better stewards to the Earth.
“[This] starts with making conservation a valued priority,” Pablo Solomon, eco-designer and futurist, says.
“I would encourage cities to tie tree planting and maintenance to picking up a welfare check and/or part of community service programs.”
Solomon also explains that city executives should concentrate on making greener communities. “It is a relatively cheap and easy way to create a more healthy living space,” he adds.
“The benefits of planting greenery in cities actually does make them cost effective was of improving city life. And there are tangible economic and life style benefits to planting trees and other greenery in our cities.”
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