Review: ‘Mini-Forest Revolution’ shows how to imitate nature

This cover image released by Chelsea Green shows
This cover image released by Chelsea Green shows
This cover image released by Chelsea Green shows

This cover image released by Chelsea Green shows “Mini-Forest Revolution: Using the Miyawaki Method to Rapidly Renaturalize the World” by Hannah Lewis. (Chelsea Green via AP)

This cover image released by Chelsea Green shows “Mini-Forest Revolution: Using the Miyawaki Method to Rapidly Renaturalize the World” by Hannah Lewis. (Chelsea Green via AP)

Mini-Forest Revolution: Using the Miyawaki Method to Quickly Rebuild the World”, by Hannah Lewis (Chelsea Green)

Trees serve us best when planted with friends.

In “Mini-Forest Revolution,” author Hannah Lewis shows how a forestry method developed by Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki is helping groups around the world restore devastated areas into dense forests that create green zones and help mitigate global warming by absorbing carbon.

Mention the word “forest” and many people think the national park is the scope, but a forest planted in the Miyawaki method can thrive and make a positive environmental difference in a space the size of about half a dozen parking spaces. That’s because, planted in a group, the trees shade and cool the land below and allow it to hold much more water, which not only helps all the trees, but also allows beneficial insects and animals to thrive.

On a forest floor, temperatures can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the surrounding area. Replace an asphalt surface with a mini forest and the temperature differential can be 50 degrees or more.

In Miyawaki plantations, monocultures are out; the natural variety is on the rise. Forests contain a mixture of tree species in the wild, explains Lewis.

Critical to the Miyawaki method is choosing the right trees for the site. And with rising temperatures, the trees we plant need to be adaptable to temperatures that can be much warmer.

At least two groups have emerged to advance the Miyawaki afforestation method: Afforestt in India and National Urban Forests in Seattle. Natural Urban Forests founder Ethan Bryson was inspired after seeing a TED talk by Shubhendu Sharma, founder of Afforestt.

India, England, France and especially the Netherlands are leading the world in creating Miyawaki forests, many of them small enough to replace what were once school play areas.

By the end of the year, reports Lewis, the Netherlands will have 230 mini-forests; each associated with a school or daycare where students will plant and learn.

Tree planting is regularly offered as a solution to global warming because trees absorb carbon; in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide absorbs and retains heat. But the solution is not as simple as planting any tree available – some tree species are much better at absorbing carbon than others.

In 185 neat pages, Lewis simplifies the science of planting trees in a way that yields maximum benefit.

And that’s an urgent question in the United States, where Lewis notes that we have only one-fifth of the original forests that were here when Europeans arrived.

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