From bananas to olives and avocados to cashews, trees provide us with a lot of the food we eat. It can be easy to take these green goliaths for granted, but it’s important to acknowledge how much trees give us beyond oxygen.
Trees are a true source of life that keeps on giving. They are a fascinating part of life that should be understood and appreciated.
Let’s take a deep dive into why trees grow food and their importance to our existence.
What Food Grows From Trees?
Trees are responsible for growing the majority of fruits, including apples, bananas, oranges, coconuts, and many more. On the other hand, vegetables usually don’t grow on trees. The few exceptions include moringa leaves and the hearts of palm.
If we get technical, plants and fungi that we eat are also capable of growing “on” trees. For example, an edible fungus that has spread across an oak tree is technically a vegetable that grew on a tree.
Beyond these few exceptions, fruits are the only food that grows from trees.
Do All Trees Produce Food?
Though many trees produce food, not all do. Trees that do produce food are typically “fruit trees,” which are also classified as flowering plants.
Fruit trees provide a variety of different fruits for animals and humans alike, though only fractions of the fruit grown on trees are healthy for us to eat.
All trees are capable of producing food and sustenance for themselves via photosynthesis. Fruit trees are the only trees that provide food to humans, for the most part.
Oak trees and birch trees, for example, provide no food for us, though their leaves may provide food for insects and small animals.
Trees that do provide food include:
- Apple trees
- Avocado trees
- Cashew trees
- Cherry trees
- Coconut trees
- Lime trees
- Mango trees
- Olive trees
- Orange trees
- Pear trees
- Pomegranate trees
- Pomelo trees
How Do Trees Provide Food?
Trees provide food primarily through fruits but also through some vegetables. Trees supply food in a variety of ways, and who uses that food often depends on where on the tree the food is grown.
Fruits like bananas hang from the trees they grow on. Animals that can climb or fly, such as snakes, bats, and primates, are often the first to eat hanging fruits. Once bananas fall from the trees, they’re next consumed by rodents, tortoises, and bugs.
Bugs or small rodents often consume the leaves of trees. Leaves are grown at the ends of branches, so small critters need to climb trees or wait for the branches to fall to eat them.
Other tree-grown foods like the heart of palm are significantly harder to reach. The heart of the palm is the internal nutrients of the tree it’s from, so humans are usually the only creatures to taste this vegetable.
Why Do Trees Grow Fruits?
Fruits are the ripe ovaries from a fruit tree’s flowers. Trees grow fruit for reproduction, as fruits carry seeds.
Unfortunately, growing a tree from a fruit seed is not easy. Cultivating an apple tree from an apple seed very rarely produces results. You can only grow a fruit tree with the correct soil, seed, climate, and circumstances.
Regardless, reproduction is the inherent evolutionary purpose for trees growing fruit.
Fruits are tasty and healthy for animals, who help increase the spread of these plants. A forest of apple trees won’t grow far if all the seeds land directly underneath the original tree.
While a Samara fruit (also known as a helicopter seed) spirals in the wind after dropping, apples use their natural appeal and taste to spread their seeds.
Apples are evolutionarily appealing to animals, as they often take the fruit with them. In the most ideal scenario, an animal will eat the apple, seeds, and all, and then defecate – providing the new tree-to-be with fresh fertilizer.
Why Do Trees Grow Vegetables?
From a botanist perspective, a “vegetable” is any edible part of a plant that is not the fruit. The leaves, roots, stems, bark, and just about every other part of a tree are vegetables as long as they can be consumed in some form.
The consumer does not necessarily need to be able to eat it for it to be considered a vegetable.
From a culinary perspective, almost no vegetables grow on trees. The heart of palm, a nutritious veggie from the core of palm trees, and malunggay/moringa leaves, a healthy drumstick tree leaf often used in soups in the Philippines, are the two most notable tree-grown vegetables.
Trees grow these vegetables for a variety of reasons. Inedible vegetables like bark, stems, and roots are self-explanatory, as these are part of the tree’s anatomy. Trees grow leaves for sustenance, as leaves perform photosynthesis.
Why Do Plants Grow Fruit and Vegetables?
Much like trees, most plants grow fruit to spread seeds and reproduce. Vegetables aren’t produced for reproduction, as they don’t contain seeds. Instead, vegetables typically serve specific evolutionary purposes for the plants they come from.
For example, potatoes are stem tubers. They store nutrients for the plant while also being their own organ. They also just so happen to be edible for humans and can be cooked in a multitude of ways.
Countless genetic variations of the potato plant have been spread and birthed by humans over thousands of years, developing the original potatoes into what they are today.
How Do Trees Provide Shelter?
Trees provide shelter via their branches and leaves. The extent of this shelter varies from tree to tree.
Pine and spruce trees are some of the best trees for shelters, providing thick foliage and cover that doesn’t disappear during colder seasons. Animals often use pine and spruce trees for shelter, as these trees give them ample hiding spots from predators.
The purpose of trees providing shelter is to protect the tree and the ground around it. While a tree, like all plants, needs sunlight to survive, too much sunlight would dry out the soil that holds its roots.
Having a rich top of greenery shades the soil also protects the ground from rain. In the event of heavy downpours, raindrops often collect in leaves and drop into the dirt intermittently rather than all at once.
How Do Trees Breathe?
Trees breathe using stomata – microscopic organs within their leaves. Like most other plants, trees use photosynthesis to absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. These leaves also take in energy from the sunlight, completing the process.
Interestingly, very few tree leaves are healthy for humans to eat – most notably, moringa leaves. While many tree leaves can be consumed by humans safely, they aren’t particularly healthy, tasty, or chewy. It’s safe to assume trees don’t want us eating the things that help them (and us) breathe.
How Do Trees Affect Smaller Plants?
As a dominant plant species, trees tend to negatively impact the smaller plants around them. Many trees greatly reduce the amount of sunlight smaller plants like flowers and grass receive.
However, a tree’s presence doesn’t entirely affect smaller plants negatively. Tree roots improve the soil around them, making it more fertile for more plants to grow. Smaller plants in forests have lasted as long as they have because they’ve evolved to live with less sunlight.
Though trees do have negative impacts on those beneath them, their influence on their ecosystems is primarily positive.