Saving the world with only trees ? No way ! Mother Nature says: “Trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants together”

Numerous organizations and individuals are recently pledging to plant a remarkable number of trees as a regenerative methodology to improve the people’s land and their livelihoods. Their main goal is to reforest the planet with billions of trees to establish a sustainable change, to revitalize degraded lands and to end hunger and poverty.

I wonder why everybody is only talking about planting trees (to absorb CO2). One should be aware of the fact that Mother Nature has shown us the way by covering the originally barren lands with a mixture of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants, all together in one and the same location.

When green plants are invading a barren piece of land, one will never find an area with only trees. In this group of pioneer plants, one will always find trees, shrubs and herbaceous plant species growing together.

If remaining undisturbed, such a pioneer vegetation is steadily evolving towards a climax vegetation, in most cases a wood, or a forest, normally consisting of 3 vegetation layers: the tree canopy, the shrub layer and the herbaceous layer.

During that period of establishing a climax vegetation, a number of plant species join the original pioneers, their seeds flying in with the wind or being dropped by animals.

Taking into account these phenomena of ‘natural greening’, I am convinced that today’s action plans to cover the planet with ONLY TREES, is a form of short-sightedness.

Every single initiative to reforest the world should follow MOTHER NATURE’s example: planting and seeding together TREES, SHRUBS AND HERBACEOUS PLANT SPECIES.

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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