Houstonians have a special relationship with trees. They grow quickly here, making a faceless subdivision a cozy village in record time and softening the hard edges of our urban architecture. They provide a dappled illusion of cool in summer's steam bath and bring a visual grace to our everyday living.

That bond was brought home to many Houstonians in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike's rampage, in which the city lost tens of thousands of trees. Broken limbs and trunks were strewn across yards and parks like old and stalwart friends laid low.

So when Mayor Bill White announced last week that the city was participating in Million Trees + Houston, a plan to plant more than a million trees in Houston in the next five years, the news was doubly welcome. Mayor White has championed, throughout his tenure, a greener, less polluted city, and this latest enterprise with other like-minded advocates is a wise investment that will bear fruit not to mention leaves and branches for generations to come.

As reported by the Chronicle's Allan Turner, the multimillion dollar public-private partnership will include the Texas Department of Transportation, which has promised to plant 513,000 trees on highway rights of way; Harris County, planting more than 275,000 trees; and Trees for Houston and Texas Forest Service, each planting more than 10,000 trees. Starting with a $750,000 budget, the city plans to plant at least 15,000 trees. (They began the project last month.) "Our big public goal," said White, "is to plant more trees than we ever have."

The benefits of trees go far beyond the visual. Particularly important in an urban environment, they help clean the air by trapping and holding particle pollutants (dust, ash, pollen and smoke) that can damage human lungs, and they absorb carbon dioxide, removing and storing the carbon while releasing the oxygen back into the air. They aid in flood prevention, muffle sound and wind, and they attract and support all kinds of life.

George Rogers, professor of landscape architecture and urban planning at Texas A&M University, told the Chronicle studies have shown that trees help to reduce stress and help patients recover from surgery and illness, and that tree-lined streets slow down traffic and prevent accidents. White told reporters that he is asking large businesses to participate in the program by giving employees "the gift of trees" for the upcoming holidays, a gift that lasts a lot longer than a turkey.

Maybe they could give both. A turkey is always welcome and makes that holiday dinner worth eating. But as professor Rogers pointed out, "Without a habitat in nature, you end up without a life worth living."

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—Houston Chronicle