Trees in trouble

How many trees are there?

There are almost 60,000 kinds of trees in the world. Areas like Central and South America have the most kinds of trees, following by some parts of Asia.

A new report called ‘State of the World’s Trees’, says that 30% or roughly one out of every three species faces extinction. Extinction happens when a plant or animal is no longer found in the wild.  At least 142 species of trees have already become extinct in the wild. In some other species, just one last tree remains of an entire species.

Which areas have more kinds of trees? 

tree richness

As you can see, the Asian region, including India, is the second richest in the world, when it comes to the kinds of trees it contains. (Image credit: State of the World’s Trees published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Data from IUCN Red List 2020.3)

Where is the danger?

While trees are at risk all over the world, according to the report, the greatest known threat to trees is in the island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Other places where trees are gravely (to a great deal) threatened are the islands of St Helena in the Atlantic and Mauritius (which is near Madagascar). Do you see what is common? They are all islands. Islands have fewer trees in a small area so when trees get cut for farming or for wood, in a short time, the forest cover disappears fast.

Why are trees being cut?

Over the past three hundred years, global forest area has decreased by about 40% and 29 countries have lost more than 90% of their forest cover. Just seven types of crops are causing more than half the de-forestation (which is the cutting down of trees in a large scale, destroying forests) on earth. These crops include oil palm, soya bean, cocoa and rubber.

The threat to trees


Image credit: State of the World’s Trees published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Data from IUCN Red List 2020.3)

.Does climate change hurt trees?

In the chart above, you would have seen that climate change too hurts trees. How does this happen?

  • Violent storms and cyclones that come along with climate change cause trees to fall
  • As the earth heats up, trees uses to cooler climates in boreal forests (found in parts of Canada, Alaska and Russia) are getting competition from warm weather trees, which end up replacing them. This could affect as much as 20% of trees in such forests
  • As coastal areas flood when sea levels rise, trees that grow in the areas between low tide (when the sea moves back) and high tide areas (when it comes closer to shore) cannot manage
  • A warm climate suits many more pests that could attack trees

We still need our trees

Even as trees continue to be cut down faster than new ones can grow all over the world, the truth is that we need our trees. Where do trees come in useful?


Many trees are also important to people in a religious way. Think of the Peepul tree – you may have seen people leaving offerings such as milk and fruit near such trees. It was under a Peepul that the Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment (knowledge), so it is very important to Buddhists.  In the same way, the Baobab is important to the people of Madagascar. The people there worship these trees as they believe that the spirits of their ancestors live inside them.


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