John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman stomped through the Midwestern winter snow with bare feet. His cloak was a lightly modified coffee sack with holes for his head and arms that—all of this according to a posthumous 1871 profile in Harper's—he deemed "as good clothing as any man need wear." He ate from buckets of pig slop, and when people welcomed Appleseed into their log homes, he would lie on the floor and deliver "news right fresh from heaven." He claimed to have frequent conversations with angels, two of whom promised to marry him upon his death if he agreed to abstain from marriage during his Earthly existence, which he did manage.
But Appleseed was also wholly obsessed with planting trees for the benefit of future generations, so his legacy as an American folk hero is due.
It is becoming increasingly clear that trees help people live longer, healthier, happier lives—to the tune of $6.8 billion in averted health costs annually in the U.S., according to research published this week. And we're only beginning to understand the nature and magnitude of their tree-benevolence.
In the current journalEnvironmental Pollution, forester Dave Nowak and colleagues found that trees prevented 850 human deaths and 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in 2010 alone. That was related to 17 tonnes of air pollution removed by trees and forests, which physically intercept particulate matter and absorb gasses through their leaves.