Lipstick on a Fig Tree

Why Planting Trees Avoids the Real Problems (and May Make Things Worse)

In support of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 13, 15, and 17.

Tree planting dominates political and popular agendas, and is often portrayed as an easy answer to the climate crisis and effective mitigation for corporate carbon emissions. However, it is not a simple solution: Planting the wrong trees in the wrong place can cause considerably more damage than benefits, failing people and nature. Given that the botanical community is currently assessing the conservation status of every tree species on Earth ( and we grow over 18,000 tree species in botanic gardens and arboreta, Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BCGI) and University of British Columbia Botanical Garden (UBCBG) have an important role to play in helping to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place and that diverse native species are part of tree planting portfolios. Surely it is common sense to incorporate biodiversity, botanical data and botanical expertise into both the planning and practice of tree planting? This may not be the case.


Firstly, unlike carbon or timber, biodiversity is not a commodity. As long as this remains the case, market-based solutions to the loss of biodiversity are untenable. Secondly, few (if any) governments regard biodiversity as enough of a public good to commoditize it or fund it directly at the levels required. Thirdly, science itself has a credibility problem. Large parts of society completely misunderstand science and see it as a competing belief system or dogma (climate change is a case in point) rather than a process of testing and consensus.


So what needs to change? Just about everything. Governments need to recognize biodiversity for the public good that it is and pull every lever at their disposal to either commoditize it or directly pay for it. Society needs to recognize the importance of science in informing the decisions we urgently need to make to ensure life on Earth is sustainable. Science needs to value and reward the practical as well as the intellectual. The botanic garden community needs to put the practical conservation of biodiversity first – in our seed banks, in our living collections and, most importantly, out there in the landscape.

Join Dean Meigan Aronson of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Science, Dr. Pedro Brancalion of the University of São Paolo, Patrick Lewis of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, and Paul Smith of Botanic Gardens Conservation International in a virtual event exploring a botanist’s rules of engagement in a rapidly changing world.


Watch the Event Recording

Event Material

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) works with partners around the world to save tree species from extinction. In the past five years, BGCI has established and delivered tree conservation projects in 40 countries, conserved 190 threatened tree species, and trained 4,500 people in tree conservation techniques.


For more on BGCI’s work in plant and tree conservation, click here.

To explore further tools and resources, visit BGCI and IABG’s Species Recovery Manual and the BGCI’s Species Recovery Briefs.


Session Speakers

Dr. Meigan Aronson, Dean, UBC Faculty of Science

Dr. Aronson brings a strong commitment to research, teaching and learning. She has an extensive publication record (more than 140 articles, including in Nature Communications, PNAS, Physical Review Letters, and Physical Review B). She has been honoured with a number of fellowships, including American Physical Society Fellow, and most recently, Fellow of the Neutron Scattering Society of America. To date, Dr. Aronson has received more than US$13.5 million in sponsored research support. She is passionate about mentoring students and postdoctoral fellows, and has a deep commitment to diversity and improving the success of students and faculty.


Dr. Pedro Brancalion, Professor of Tropical Forestry, University of São Paolo

Dr. Pedro Brancalion is a Professor of Tropical Forestry at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and vice-coordinator of the Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact. His research focuses on transforming restoration into an economically viable land use with greater potential to contribute to biodiversity conservation and human wellbeing. He has published over 170 peer-reviewed papers, received the 2018 Bunge Award, and was included as part of the 100,000 top scientists around the world 2019.


Patrick Lewis, Director, UBC Botanical Garden

As Director of the UBC Botanical Garden (est. 1916), including the Nitobe Memorial Garden, Patrick Lewis is responsible for the leadership and strategic direction of the Garden.

Prior to joining the Garden, Patrick was the Managing Director of UBC’s Maurice Young Centre for Applied Ethics, as well as on the executive of the UBC College for Interdisciplinary Studies. He is a founding member and director of the North American Japanese Garden Association, sits, ex officio, on the Vandusen Botanical Garden’s Board of Directors, and is an active member of the American Public Garden Association. From 2011 to 2013 Patrick was director of the UBC Biodiversity Collections, including the Garden, as well as the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.


Dr. Paul Smith, Secretary General (CEO), Botanic Gardens Conservation International

Dr. Paul Smith

Dr. Paul Smith is the Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). BGCI is the largest plant conservation network in the world, comprising >600 member institutions in 100 countries. Dr. Paul Smith is a specialist in the plants and vegetation of southern Africa, and is the recipient of the New England Wildflower Society’s Medal for Services to International Plant Conservation and the David Fairchild Medal for Plant Exploration.


Facilitated by Lana Sutherland, CEO, TEALEAVES


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