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What is Arboriculture?

Arboriculture is defined as the science through which trees are cultivated and maintained. But this only hints at the rich botanical role trees play in our modern world, and at the people who practice this field of botany. Arborists or arboriculturalists provide a critical service to urban landscapes as well as managed forests in a variety of contexts. In the article below, we’ll explore what the science of caring for trees entails.

More Than Simple Planting

While it’s common knowledge that a single mature tree produces many pounds of oxygen in its lifetime, few people grasp that trees require careful nurture to thrive. Especially when cultivating intentional plantings in urban or suburban environments, a great many factors must be considered.

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Research has shown that the presence of trees alone can act to elevate both mental health and physical well-being in urban populations. However, because the care and maintenance of trees requires funding, cities often only plant trees in more affluent neighborhoods. In addition to feeding and adequate water, trees in cities require maintenance specific to species, such as pruning to avoid electrical lines. Not all trees respond to being cut in the same way. Root systems also require management, since trees will send roots in search of nutrients and can cause damage to pavements.

The study of arboriculture has also revealed the benefits of urban tree planting. Concrete and asphalt both degrade more quickly if they are exposed to constant sunlight. Trees offer shade, which functions to extend the life of paving materials by many years. Another consideration with which city planners must cope is storm water runoff.

While, in natural settings, surface water is absorbed by an entire community of plants, uninterrupted paving channels rainwater into substantial, unchecked flows. When the water, by now carrying substantial sediments flows into storm drains or ditches, the suspended soils accumulate and block essential drainage points. In the case of new development, rainwater is given unmitigated access to soils that have been stripped of plants, which can promote uncontrolled erosion.

Managed Plantations, Reforestation, and Care

Arborists use their particular knowledge of botany in other environments beyond the city limits. Many products that rely on wood or paper draw resources from places known as plantations. These are managed tree farms that provide the raw material for many of the products we use today. In order to ensure that the plantation is maintained properly and responsible harvesting practices are employed, companies will retain the services of one or more arboriculturalists.

In the western United States, wild fires are a constant concern, especially during cycles of drought. While the health of a forest is generally maintained by small, natural blazes, underbrush sometimes accumulates. The resultant fires can destroy many square miles of old growth forest, leaving mountain slopes and delicate high desert ecosystems open to erosion and invasive species proliferation. Typically, foresters typically maintain these areas. However, in times when replanting is required, arborists are called upon to ensure that the natural populations are reestablished appropriately.

While arborists also supervise pruning and care of trees on private property, their understanding trees goes beyond the trees themselves. The botanical field they study involves familiarity with the complex dynamics of ecosystems that include trees, how trees impact environments, and vice versa. Arboriculture focuses on maintaining healthy trees in all settings to enhance property and quality of life, enrich and preserve the environment, and stabilize ecosystems that have suffered damage.

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