Is a Tree a Plant?

A tree among grass

The simple answer to this question, “Is a tree a plant?”, is yes. Trees are a type of plant with their own features. All types of plants share similar characteristics; they have roots, stems and leaves, they turn sunlight into food through photosynthesis and they absorb CO2 to release oxygen.1 But, it’s important to remember that trees are not an easily defined biological category. Some, like banana trees, share more characteristics with plants than other trees.2

What is the difference between trees and plants?

Trees are defined as tall plants with a single, strong wooden structure and large secondary limbs, branches. Trees also live much longer than most plants – as long as 5,000 years (the Bristlecone Pine, in California)3 – while most plant species live for just under two years. Furthermore, plants generally have leaves close to the ground or consist entirely of leaves, such as grass and ferns. Shrubs sit in-between small plants and large trees and are defined as woody plants with structures, branches and more height.4

The photosynthesis process and its importance

Photosynthesis is the process by which green plants turn light into food. The light energy is used to convert water, carbon dioxide and minerals into energy and oxygen.5

This process is important to our daily lives for several reasons. Without photosynthesis, we would have no oxygen to breathe in. Plants and trees are essential to our survival because without them, we would run out of breathable air.6 There is no better way to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen than trees.7

The importance of preserving and planting trees, plants and forests

We don’t just need to preserve and plant trees to provide us with essential oxygen. There is no better way to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen than trees.8 Trees also protect and improve the soil, and without them, much of our fertile land would turn into deserts. They are also the best guard we have against flooding and similar natural disasters.9

Trees and forests do more than just protect us. They are a source of sustainable wood, and they provide jobs to people in rural areas.10 Such jobs may be in the form of forestry, recreation and culture (outdoor festivals and hiking) or simply connecting with nature. In fact, people living within 100 metres of a higher density of trees were found to have a lower rate of antidepressant prescriptions, a recent study found.11

Sources

  1. Sciencing. (2017). How Do Plant Cells Obtain Energy? [online] Available at: https://sciencing.com/do-plant-cells-obtain-energy-6471795.html
  2. PBS NewsHour. (2016). 8 things you didn’t know about bananas. [online] Available at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/8-things-you-didnt-know-about-bananas.
  3. Trust, W. (n.d.). The UK’s oldest tree. [online] Woodland Trust. Available at: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/06/the-oldest-tree-in-the-uk-how-long-do-trees-live/ [Accessed 25 Jan. 2021].
  4. www.rhs.org.uk. (n.d.). Shrubs. [online] Available at: https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?pid=157 [Accessed 27 Jan. 2021]
  5. BBC (2019). What is photosynthesis? [online] BBC Bitesize. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zvrrd2p/articles/zn4sv9q.
  6. BBC (2019). What is photosynthesis? [online] BBC Bitesize. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zvrrd2p/articles/zn4sv9q.
  7. Usda.gov. (2017). The Power of One Tree – The Very Air We Breathe. [online] Available at: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/17/power-one-tree-very-air-we-breathe.
  8. Usda.gov. (2017). The Power of One Tree – The Very Air We Breathe. [online] Available at: https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2015/03/17/power-one-tree-very-air-we-breathe.
  9. IUCN. (2018). Forests and climate change. [online] Available at: https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/forests-and-climate-change.
  10. World Bank. (2016). Forests Generate Jobs and Incomes. [online] Available at: https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/forests/brief/forests-generate-jobs-and-incomes.
  11. Marselle, M.R., Bowler, D.E., Watzema, J., Eichenberg, D., Kirsten, T. and Bonn, A. (2020). Urban street tree biodiversity and antidepressant prescriptions. Scientific Reports, [online] 10(1), p.22445. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-79924-5.