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Written By Jessica Alba.

Posted on November 3rd, 2020.

Tagged with NYC Watershed.

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Do trees cling to the soil or does soil cling to the trees?

Here at MyWoodlot, it’s no secret that we think forests are pretty incredible. And for good reason; New York City relies on forests in upstate watersheds to jump start the treatment process for their drinking water. For more info on this, check out these blogs about the NYC Watershed and how Woods Wash Water.

But how exactly do trees gives us a head start on cleaning water? The easiest answer is by holding soil in place. Strong roots growing underground act as an amazingly effective net that can stabilize streambanks and prevent them from eroding away. To sum it up, without trees we’d find a lot more dirt in our drinking water. To see just how much soil a tree can keep tucked up under its roots, take some time on your next hike to notice those clinging to the edges of streams, like in the pictures below.


A large storm possibly washed some of the earth out from around this tree, revealing an intricate tangle of roots that’s typically hidden. 


Behind this tree is a buildup of soil that could have made its way into the stream. Luckily, the tree was there to catch it before it reached the water.


For a clearer picture of how much dirt roots can hold, search for newly fallen trees. Looking at trees from this perspective really emphasizes how great the roots are at grabbing onto loose sediments.

Even though they’re working around the clock, to the untrained eye it might not look like trees do much of anything. The jobs they have can be very difficult to see, especially when it comes to protecting water quality. So if you have a hard time imagining the work that forests do, on your next walk in the woods focus your gaze downward, toward the roots, and you might see trees in action. 

For more examples of how trees prevent erosion, check out my first Trees in Action blog, which highlights the work done by the forest canopy.

Check out: Trees in Action Part 1

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