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Johnny Appleseed’s legacy on the land

Johnny Appleseed was not a myth. He went about the country, especially the northeast to the Ohio Valley, and planted apple seeds. Now here’s the clever part … he mostly wanted to plant the seeds atop hills. Why? If you walk around the bottom of valleys and stream banks, you will suddenly come upon “wild” apple trees there. Some are small crabapples, some are forgotten varieties. Untended and wild, these trees are Johnny Appleseed’s legacy. You see, a tree planted atop a hill will drop apples that will, naturally, roll downhill finding another bed to grow in.

A strange development has taken place recently. Many of you will have learned of giant areas of deforestation around the planet, trees used as a financial resource for strapped populations, millions of acres denuded of their natural cover. 

One company decided to do something about it. BioCarbon Engineering has developed drones that plant trees. Yes, you read that right, a drone goes over the ground dropping or injecting tree seeds. Started in 2012 under the auspices of the Worldview International Foundation in Myanmar, BioCarbon’s drones fire biodegradable pods—filled with a germinated seed and nutrients — into the ground.

Two operators—yes, just two — can plant 400,000 trees a day. And the trees they are planting range from mangrove swamps (which are extremely tricky due to salinity conditions and placement of seeds) to forest deciduous seeds. 

The mangrove seeds also have the issue of tidal wash which BioCarbon have solved by forcefully shooting the pods deeper into the soil. And it is worth remembering that half of the world mangrove forests have been lost. With their twisted roots that reach underwater along coastlines, mangrove trees can store more carbon than trees on land. This deforestation alone is responsible for 24 million tons of CO2 emissions each year, and, what’s more, mangroves are a barrier in storms. 

When a cyclone hit Myanmar in 2008 the trees weren’t there to make a water barrier and more than 100,000 people perished. Oh, and one more benefit: when mangrove trees return, the fish population rises, providing fishing revenue once again.

Irina Fedorenko of BioCarbon says, “The forest didn’t vanish by itself—the forest was cut down by local people. Now we’re replanting on a massive scale.” How big a scale? More than 700,000 acres of coastal mangrove in Myanmar with more than 1 billion trees. 

And they are not through yet, the plan is to replant tropical forests the area of New Jersey. How long will the planting take? “Our aim is to complete the job within two years.” All with only two drones, with four operators — Johnny Appleseed is cheering from beyond the grave.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.