Why Plant Mast-Producing Trees?

Why Plant Mast-Producing Trees?

Mast-producing trees provide many benefits for wildlife, for humans, and for the environment.

Mast is one of the most important food sources for hundreds of species of mammals and birds, including game animals such as deer and wild turkey. Some species are almost entirely dependent on it. Mast is an especially important food source in autumn and winter, when it helps animals prepare for and survive the cold. Domestic pigs were also traditionally fattened on hard mast such as acorns or chestnuts.

Mast-producing tree provide other types of food in the form of leaves, buds, bark, and more. Many fruit and berry producing trees and shrubs are an important source of nectar for honeybees and other pollinators, and more than 500 caterpillar species alone use the oak family (Quercus) as host plants. These caterpillars and other insect herbivores become food for hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and beneficial insects.

Food is not the only benefit mast-producing trees provide for wildlife. They are also an important source of shelter for many smaller mammals and birds. Butterflies and other flying insects may shelter under tree leaves during summer storms, and many different types of insects overwinter in tree bark, where they help sustain woodpeckers, bears, and other species through the winter.

Many types of mast favored by wildlife are considered delicacies by humans as well. Planting mast producing trees is a good way to reduce your grocery bill while enjoying fresh, delicious, and healthy nuts, fruits, and berries, such as elderberry, serviceberry, persimmon, pawpaw, walnut, pecan, and hazelnut. Although unusual in modern American cuisine, acorns were also a major source of food for many American Indian tribes, who collected them and pounded them into flour, which was used to make mush or bread. Acorns are an ideal food for societies that rely heavily on foraging because they can be stored for long periods without spoiling. An especially good harvest could sustain the community for several years if properly cached.

When planted on a commercial scale, fruits, nuts, and berries from mast producing trees can provide an excellent primary or supplementary source of income for homesteaders and family farmers.

Mast is not the only benefit of mast producing trees and shrubs for farmers, foresters, and other landowners. Many hard mast producing trees in particular are known for their longevity and fine timber. Mast producing trees make fine, productive additions to any woodlot or managed forest, and are also widely recommended to improve soil quality and prevent erosion on hillsides and in riparian zones. They are widely used in agroforestry and coppice systems, and play a major role in current research into woody agriculture and analog forestry systems.

Like all trees, they also offer many benefits to homeowners. Studies have found that large deciduous trees planted on the south and west sides of your home can reduce summer cooling bills by up to 50% in some areas of the United States. Trees planted in order to shade the air conditioning unit have also been found to make the unit run an average of 10% more efficiently. Trees planted to shade sidewalks and roads reduce the urban heat island effect and help keep the air temperature lower in the neighborhood as a whole. Finally, studies have found that mature trees in a well landscaped yard can raise home values by up to 19%. Another study found that in neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, home values increased by as much as $20,000 compared to comparable neighborhoods and homes without tree-lined streets.

In recent years, trees have gotten a lot of attention for their ability to sequester large amounts of carbon, combating global climate change. Trees are actually carbon neutral over their lifetimes (when a tree is burned or decomposed, it releases all its stored carbon back into the atmosphere), but because so many mast producing trees are so long lived, they are exceptionally well suited to provide hundreds of years of carbon sequestration. Their ability to sequester carbon can be extended even longer thanks to their fine timber quality – well made furniture and wooden homes can last hundreds of additional years with extremely slow loss of carbon. Wood is also attracting renewed energy as a clean and renewable energy source thanks to new advanced wood combustion technologies and other research into biomass energy.

Mast producing trees and shrubs are among the most useful, beneficial and multipurpose plants in the world, offering nearly unparalleled benefits to humans, wildlife, and the environment. Whether you are hoping to plant one tree or one thousand, there is a mast producing tree or shrub that will meet your needs. To get started, check out our sample list of mast-producing trees and shrubs at Native Mast-Producing Trees of North America.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/267994814/