By Ruth Chatterton
Bedford Arbor Resource Committee
This season, with evergreens so prominently featured in many decors, is a good time to reflect on the value of pine trees out-of-doors. These trees share much of the value of their hardwood cousins, but they also have unique properties that increase their worth.
Reduce Noise and Light Pollution. The FHA commissioned a study that found that a belt of conifers 30 to 150 feet thick can drop noise levels by up to 5 decibels. In addition, the dense foliage can block light from nearby sources. And, since conifers don’t shed all their needles, this is true all year long.
Reduce Energy Costs. Studies have shown that owners of older, poorly insulated homes can save as much as 30 percent in heating costs with a mature pine windbreak. And, pines with lower branches reduce snow drifting, which can reduce shoveling.
Manage Water and Soil. Pine trees tolerate sun, drought, cold and poor soil conditions better than some hardwoods. All trees’ roots hold soil in place, but layers of needles below the pines help soften the impact of falling rain, allowing more of it into the ground and reducing runoff. Some gardeners use pine needles as a mulch for their acid-loving plants, such as azalea and roses.
Create Habitat. The dense foliage provides cover from harsh New England winter weather for birds and other small wildlife. Pine trees with branches that extend down to the ground create cozy igloos for larger wildlife. As pines grow and drop their lower branches, the tall, straight trunk that’s left helps prevent predators from climbing into the treetop, making them safe habitat for owls, wild turkeys, and such.
Feed Wildlife. Pine trees bear woody cones that contain nutrient-rich seeds valued by many wildlife as food. The seeds attract jays, nuthatches, mourning doves, finches, waxwings, woodpeckers, chickadees and also small animals such as squirrels and chipmunks.
So, next time you gaze at the snow-covered majesty of a big pine or inhale its spicy scent, think also of the tree’s practical contributions to pollution remediation, and energy, water, soil and wildlife conservation.