Health: It grows on trees!

A new way of valuing urban canopy

We’ve long known the benefits of trees: shade, stormwater management, habitat, traffic calming, community building — the list goes on and on. Thanks to research over the years, including some cited in the recent New Yorker article "How Trees Calm Us Down," we've also started talking about health, and how trees can enhance our well-being and make us feel better. All the more reason to get excited about trees!

Those of us who geek out on trees have known for a while that they improve air quality. A mature tree can provide enough oxygen for two adults and sequester up to 48 pounds of carbon. A few years back, Friends of Trees partnered with the Oregon Department of Transportation, Metro and many others in a collaborative project that planted thousands of trees along the I-205 multi-use path. The physical goal was to create a forest edge along the path to buffer path users and the community from freeway fumes. The ancillary goal was to improve the beauty and overall appeal of the path as a destination, encouraging more people to get out and be active on it.

It wasn’t exactly an awakening; rather, health has become a new way to appreciate the value of trees in our communities. Every tree we plant contributes to the health of our environment. Armed with this new understanding, Friends of Trees was excited to welcome new opportunities within the health community. We have been fortunate to participate in health and nature forums, events, conferences, serve on The Intertwine Alliance Health and Nature working group, and receive grant funding to help support some of this work. 

We’re also piloting a series of neighborhood nature walks, using maps to identify areas that could really benefit from health-focused tree plantings, continuing to infuse active living into our tree plantings by promoting bike plantings, and looking for new partners and projects for the future.

The New Yorker article highlighted a study that found that 10 street or front-yard trees on a block relates to nearby neighbors feeling one percent healthier. This apparently equates to a $10,000 increase in household income, or in becoming seven years younger. One of many compelling arguments for planting street trees! For 25 years, Friends of Trees has been bringing people together to plant and care for trees. It’s good to know that with over 500,000 trees planted during that time period, we have been doing the right thing, for the cities we live in, for our friends and neighbors and the critters that call our urban canopy home. 

When I moved into my home, there was one tree on my block. Today there are 10, and while I’m not sure I feel exactly seven years younger, I do feel richer and healthier seeing them each day, walking beneath their small but growing canopy, and understanding they are part of a larger system making our community healthier in so many ways.

If you’d like to work with Friends of Trees to plant trees at your home, or simply join in the fun of planting, visit our website, or give us a call at 503-595-0212

Erica Timm is a neighborhood trees senior specialist at Friends of Trees. She works with volunteers to help plan and implement community tree-planting events, coordinates the long-term tree monitoring program, and sources the neighborhood trees planted in the Portland metro area. She never tires of the inspiring stories and smiles shared on planting days.


Submitted by Mary Vogel (not verified) on
Erica, It's good to be reminded of the goal behind the I-205 tree planting--"to buffer path users and the community from freeway fumes". I send thoughts of gratitude to the tree planters every time I am in an affected neighborhood out that way. I do hope that FOT is also looking at westside sites with freeways too. The juncture of Hwy 26 and I-405 has a TRAQ of 19.84 vs 12.04 for the City as a whole and an Urban Heat Island Index of ,80 vs .48. The map shows that 30% of the population is over 65 and 50% are in poverty. I suspect those latter figures are actually far higher because this area is nearly all subsidized housing. I have been struggling to bring attention to the area through the Gretchen Kafoury Memorial Street Trees Proposal where I document in photograph the low-income housing that has NO STREET TREES. I would like to get the streets in front of each and every one of these buildings planted with trees. I'd like to work with the Health and Nature Working Group to get funding for some good canopy trees to be planted--especially along SW Jefferson and SW Columbia. Does anyone out there reading this want to work with me on this? Contact me at 503-245-7858 or

Submitted by Whitney (not verified) on
Hi Mary, I know that our partners at Bureau of Environmental Services recently sent out a city wide mailing in an effort to get more trees planted in commercial and industrial areas. I would try reaching out to them to see if the properties you are thinking about may fall into the project area. You can reach out to them at Good luck with the project! -Whitney Friends of Trees

Submitted by Brighton West (not verified) on
Mary - thanks for your work to bring more trees to SW PDX. FOT plants mostly on the east side, but one of my first projects 9 years ago was putting trees in Goose Hollow. It think we planted 25 trees. They look gorgeous and make such a huge impact! Maybe PBOT would be OK with "Treeing Spaces" as opposed to parking spaces or street seats. Just cut a hole in the road and put a tree in the parking strip (the real parking strip - the one where people park their cars.) I'm guessing it's more complicated than that... but who would have thought street seats would work 10 years ago?

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