CLEMSON — Trees are the Rodney Dangerfields of our ecosystem: they get no respect. With cities across the United States losing 4 million trees a year, Earth Day, this Friday, is a great occasion to show trees some love.

“Nobody looks up and appreciates trees. They’re not even thought about unless it’s allergy season or if trees are involved in catastrophes,” said Bob Polomski, a horticulturist at Clemson University where the campus is practically surrounded by a 17,500-acre experimental forest.

Trees can soak up thousands of gallons of stormwater a year, clean the air and lower energy bills.

Trees can soak up thousands of gallons of stormwater a year, clean the air and lower energy bills.

“With 80 percent of the U.S. population residing in urban environments, it’s time for us to take stock in trees, especially in cities where tree removals are exceeding the number of newly planted trees,” said Polomski, who also is the Clemson Cooperative Extension liaison to the South Carolina Botanical Garden. The garden, which is on the Clemson campus, has more than 700 tree species and cultivars from around the world, including a nationally recognized collection of magnolia trees and large, diverse collections of maples and oaks.

Polomski calls trees “silent, hard-working ecological engineers who need us as much as we need them.”

And we need trees for many reasons. They increase property values, mitigate water runoff, reduce noise pollution, attract wildlife, scrub the air of pollution and even cool temperatures by absorbing heat and providing shade, especially in areas heavily paved by concrete and asphalt, Polomski said.

“The cost of planting and maintaining trees are outweighed by the benefits when trees are given the space and resources needed to attain their mature height and spread, and the bigger the tree, the bigger the benefits,” Polomski said.

There are websites and apps that calculate the return on an investment in trees.

  • The National Tree Benefits Calculator calculates a tree’s annual value for things like increased property value, the amount of storm water runoff a tree absorbs, energy savings and carbon-capturing, based on the size and species.
  • For identifying trees, the Arbor Day Foundation offers the What Tree Is That?
  • LeafSnap identifies trees by photographs you take on your phone
  • iTree is a suite of online products from the USDA’s Forest Service that helps communities plan, manage and determine the value of trees and urban forests.

“iTree offers an unprecedented level of information on urban forests and is accessible to everyone from government officials and urban planners to homeowners who want to evaluate the best placement of a new backyard tree,” Polomski said.

“The underpinnings of communities with thriving urban forests are people,” he said. “Residents and decision-makers must work together to plan, plant, maintain and protect trees.”