Trees by the numbers



This sign was attached to a tree near my house.

Did you hear or read the Arbor Day reports on the financial benefits of trees? On American Public Media’s Marketplace,  they used i-tree to calculate the value of single trees as well as entire urban plantings. A ficus tree near the program’s office (in LA) was worth $152 a year. The trees in Oakville, Ontario are worth $2.5 million a year, and Pittsburgh figures that it generates $3 of benefit for every dollar it invests in tree planting. The benefits include carbon absorption, building shading, stormwater retention, air quality, water filtration, and property value.

According to another calculator, National Tree Benefits, my Norway maples provide over $200 per year each. I had kind of assumed all this, but having it all interpreted by the numbers does alleviate—somewhat—the many downsides of being surrounded by so many trees in such a tight space.

 The report does leave some financial aspects out. The ficus in LA, for example, probably has an extensive root system near the surface that can cause sidewalk cracking and heaving. My maples have already cost at least one year’s worth of their value at least (maybe two) in Roto Rooter visits.  And all tree maintenance tends to be expensive. So the report doesn’t include all the numbers. But it will be helpful in justifying re-treeing efforts and in countering people who leave chilling comments like these (from the Marketplace site):

A tree near a house is a killer. That’s all. You may value it at $152 or $152000 or any arbitrary number you stupidly choose. My life is worth more than that, so I had the trees on my property eliminated.

I always forget that there are people like this.


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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. Very interesting, though I didn’t see any calculation method on the site. Does it only calculate value for shade & ornamental trees? What about fruit trees? Mine provide both shade & sustenance and it’d be nice to know what someone else valued them at.

    As for the arboriphobe … wonder how much that adds to his various bills each year?

  2. Excellent point you have made but I guess point made through the sign was to realize common people about the benefits trees bring to the entire community and that people should plant more and more trees.

    I guess you wanted to point towards a kind of profit-loss thing, which is good but I think with our depleting ozone layer and potential hazards due to it, it is important for the people to think beyond money and look at the long term benefits.

  3. The calculators generous estimates include the assumption that every tree is perfectly placed to provide maximum shade and that storm run-off water gets absorbed instantly, rather than slowly.

    They assume that leaves get swept up by magic (certainly not blown by carbon-emitting leaf blowers) , that branches never fall on roads, electric lines or anywhere else.

    I have no intention ofcutting the lovely trees on my property, but I spend money for raking, for debris removal after storms, and have been inconvenienced more than once in the last few years by electricity outages or road closures due to falling branches.

    The numbers these calculators produce are good for a laugh, although I’m sure the choir will be happy with the preacher.

  4. I suspect inflated estimates like these do more damage than good. Tree huggers will still hug trees, but enviro-skeptics will probably be more skeptical of any other numerical data provided by environmental groups in support of their agenda.

    When I read something like this, it reminds me that even causes I support fudge the numbers and to be skeptical of their arguments.

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