Written by Doug Crouch

Trees are such sacred creatures on planet earth that is tough to quantify all that they do.  In the Introduction to Permaculture book, Mollison presented the three ethics but quietly tied in the life ethic as well.  It is vastly important to remember this as we work within systems that are beyond this material (matter), dualistic world rather a universe that is interlaced with patterns and mandalas of space and time of extreme complexity.  Therefore, trees themselves will always be fantastic representatives of the life ethic, they are above alive, and co-creators in nature.


With that we will now examine some of the uses of trees all the while again never forgetting this life ethic.  Trees yield tremendously both in their life and their death and our conscious consumption of their resources is vastly important for a permanent agriculture to sprout just as J. Russell Smith proposed so many years ago.  Smith advocated their incorporation back into landscapes mainly for two uses: food production and fodder for animals. However a long list is possible and depending on the climate and context many species can be gathered, planted, managed, and their subsequent yields harvested and processed.

Black Locust in flower feeding the pollinators, but a tree that has a multitude of uses

Black Locust in flower feeding the pollinators, but a tree that has a multitude of uses

The long list below is merely a synopsis of uses of trees and a few associated species. Most will be temperate and Mediterranean trees with tropical species included here and there. Virtually all trees provide varying levels of soil building, habitat, shade, oxygen production and aesthetics. So the following list below the pictures is a bit more specific:

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Fruit production: Apple, Apricot, Jack Fruit, Soursop, Paw Paw, Oranges, Nectarine, Fig, Apricot

Nut Production: Oak, Macadamia, Pecan, Walnut, Hazelnut, Almond, Cashew, Coconut, Chestnut

Bean Pod Production: Tamarind, Carob, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Mesquite

Edible Flowers: Redbud, Black Locust, Mimosa, Judas Tree

Edible Leaf production: Linden, Fragrant Spring Tree, Moringa

Oils: Almond, Beech, Avocado, Hazel

Essential Oils: Argar, Ylang Ylang, Cinnamon

Alcohol: Peach, Strawberry Tree. Apple

Syrups or Sugar: Maple, Birch, Sugar Palms

Insulation: Cork Oak, Kapok

Firewood: Black Locust, Oak, Hickory, Acacia, Willow

Charcoal: Hickory, Oak, Willow, Hazel

Timber: Oak, Wild Black Cherry, Tasmanian Blackwood, Douglas Fir

Roofs: Tasmanian Blackwood, Cedar, palms

Post: Black Locust, Eucalyptus, Osage Orange, Oak

Round Pole Construction: Oak, Wild Black Cherry, Elm, Casuarina, Eucalyptus

Tool Handles: Hickory, Ash

Medicine: Pau D’Arco, Linden, Witch Hazel, Black Walnut

Flavoring: Sassafras, Moringa, Cinnamon, Bay Leaf

Spices: Cardamom, Cloves, Spicebush

Animal Fodder: Tagasaste, Willow, Black Locust, Honey Locust, Oak, Hickory, Prosopis, Mulberry

Bee Fodder: Black Locust, Stone Fruits, Pussy Willow, Chestnut, Acacia

Wildlife Fodder: Oak, Hickory, Walnut, Wild Cherry, Mulberry, American Persimmon

Furniture: Maple, Ash, Elm, Black Walnut

Crafts: Plum, Pear, Willow, Fir

Dyes: Black Walnut, Logwood, Osage Orange, Sumac, Pomegranate

Fibers: Eucalyptus, Willow, Coconut, White Pine

Soil stabilizers: Black Locust, Casuarina, Alder, Willow

Nitrogen fixers: Tagasaste, Gliricidia, Luceana, Acacia, Black Locust, Siberian pea Shrub

Resins: Tung Oil, Pine, Rubber

Fun: Plum, Horse Chestnut, Sweet gum

Windbreaks: Black Locust, Lawson Cypress, Hazelnut, siberian pea shrub, willow, white pine

Edible Landscaping: Paw Paw, Cornelian Cherry, Aronia, Serviceberry

Stream Stabilization: Alder, Willow, Cottonwood


Forest Garden image of Terra Alta, mix of young and old fruit and nut trees as well as gardens

Garden image of Terra Alta, lemongrass foreground central, sugar cane background left, canas top right

Many others could and should be included but this is again merely a summary. Trees can and should perform many functions on a site. Their placement in relative location will facilitate more functional interconnections and should always be remembered. How they are managed as well will depend on which functions they perform. For example if black locust, seen in the above list many times, is coppiced often for biomass production, animal fodder or even firewood, it will most likely not flower every year. Then its role as a bee fodder species can’t be included. Consequently it is through sound design that uses are brought into full fruition through building redundancy.


So remember to build into your designs and landscapes the beings of trees. We have such a fine collection from all around the world at our access in this modern day that fulfilling needs in any given climate should be possible. However, remember the life ethic and if the life of a tree is to be taken, use it wisely, use it efficiently and use it with thanks. The stored sunlight, the strength to resist wind, the ability to build soil, the willingness to give habitat to others including humans, are all thing to be very thankful for. In conclusion a new economy around trees rather than annual crops must sprout so that the end of industrial ag’s dependence on monoculture is defeated. Evolution is near and trees can be a huge inspiration for a permanent culture as they so well embody it.

Forest Garden design, a great way to incorporate design and trees

Forest Garden design, a great way to incorporate design and trees

Written by Doug Crouch

Header Art Maya Mor


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