There are champion trees quietly lurking in your neighborhood and your favorite forest. You probably never noticed them. They usually hide in the background, obscured by summer leaves. You didn’t know how to see them but now, before they hide again, it’s time you find and appreciate them. Winter’s ending. Get outdoors before the leaves sprout. Take the kids with you. They can help.
I’m sure you’ve heard that trees capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. Half of dry wood is pure carbon from CO2. When you see trees, you are seeing captured CO2. Trees are carbon! Ten pounds of dry wood contains 5 pounds of pure carbon from CO2 (the rest is mostly oxygen and hydrogen). The magic of chemistry changes pure black carbon to all the beautiful colors of wood. But no matter the warm woody color, 50% of dry wood, by weight, is carbon captured from atmospheric CO2. Wood floors, furniture, cabinets, even house framing, are all 50% carbon.
You don’t need any math, measures, botany, or a degree in silviculture. Carbon capture champions are simply the heavyweights! Find the absolute heaviest-looking trees in your neighborhood. Height or girth is less important. Total weight is what counts. Other trees may be taller, but carbon champions have mass. The absolute heaviest looking trees store the most carbon.
How much CO2 do trees remove from air?
Take the weight of a tree’s carbon and multiply it by 3.67. Example: 500 pounds of carbon (from 1,000 pounds of dry wood) times 3.67, means trees remove 1,835 pounds of CO2 for every 1,000 pounds of dry wood. A single champion tree could weigh 15,000 pounds—that’s a lot of captured CO2!
You can spot champions from a distance, hiding among average trees. Champion branches are exceptionally thick, wide, and dark, easy to see even when hiding in the shroud of wimpy, wispy, young, leafless, wanna-be trees. Kids can easily spot big bold trees. That’s why you bring kids along.
Once you’ve found a potential champion, your phone camera can record the shape, size, and GPS location. You can even add a caption, so name it! Kids can help with that too. Don’t ID it to scientific species. Give it a name that means something to you. What does it remind you of? “Big boy”? “Mother tree”? “Large Leaner”? “Uncle Fred”? “The Sentinel”? Use your imagination. Then keep looking. You’ll discover more. Which is the absolute heaviest? Your pictures can help you rank them in weight order. Compare with friends to find your local grand champion. It’s fun.
You may find that some of your heaviest trees aren’t in the woods.
Most, but not all, of the big forest trees have been logged. There are still some heavyweights hidden in protected areas, but your nearest champion could be a huge street tree in town, or an old farmyard tree that’s been growing for a century or more. Keep looking as you hike around and also as you drive your electric car. You never know when or where you’ll discover another champion.
It takes many decades to become a carbon capture champion. Recent studies found that big trees still capture carbon faster than young trees. That’s why carbon capture champions are so important for our climate future. Carbon champion trees are old but valuable, and need recognition. They capture and keep hundreds of years of CO2 out of the air. An old maple can store 300+ years of CO2.; white pine, 400 years; hemlock, 500 years; white cedars, over 1,000 years! Find the champions. Name them. Protect them. They’re helping you fight global warming.
Steve Waller’s family lives in a wind- and solar-powered home. He has been involved with conservation and energy issues since the 1970s and frequently teaches about energy. Steve can be reached at Steve@UPWallers.net.
Excerpted from the Spring 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.