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As Global warming nudges temperatures higher, trees’ growing ranges are shifting northward, according to projections from the U.S. Forest Service. By the end of the century, Alabama cherry trees may be replaced by Latin America’s blue jacarandas, while Fraser firs could die out in Washington, D.C., making way for cabbage palmettos from Florida and South Carolina.
Plant hardiness zones represent the 30-year average of the coldest temperature at each location across the country. These zones help determine which trees can grow in specific areas, factoring in elements such as soil, rainfall, and humidity. As Dan Lambe, CEO of the Arbor Day Foundation, explains, these zones serve as a useful tool for understanding where and why certain trees are planted.
However, modern Climate change is rapid. The Earth has warmed about ten times faster over the past century than during historical ice ages. While humans may adapt to Global warming, trees and ecosystems that depend on them face even greater challenges.
Trees can live indefinitely, with some still standing today, dating back to before European settlers arrived. While time alone won’t kill a tree, Climate change might. Hardiness zones are slowly but inexorably migrating northward, affecting the palette of trees available for planting.
As temperatures rise, hardiness zones may shift even further north than current projections suggest. Though some areas may not see changes in their zones, they could still experience subtle shifts in vegetation. Trees “migrate” one generation at a time, with seeds spreading via river currents, wind, birds, and rodents. However, humans increasingly control tree migration patterns, experimenting with new species as the climate warms.
While introducing new tree species can sometimes be successful, there are risks involved. Some introduced species can become invasive, causing ecological disruption. Doug Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware, emphasizes the importance of considering more than just a tree’s ability to survive in a new area; it’s also essential to examine its ecological functions and potential impact on local ecosystems.
As we face the reality of Climate change and the migration of tree species, it’s crucial to consult licensed arborists or state forestry services before experimenting with new trees. Planting trees can be a powerful and tangible way to leave a positive mark on the planet. As Pete Smith, manager of the urban forestry program at the Arbor Day Foundation, notes, planting a tree is “one really tangible thing that we know can outlive us with a little bit of care and protection.”
So, let’s rise to the challenge and plant more trees that are suitable for our changing climate. This way, we can contribute to a greener, more sustainable future for generations to come.
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