Trees are Living Organic, Chemical Factories

Trees are living objects that use some of the sun’s energy to produce energy to live, grow and reproduce.  They are made up of many chemicals that can be beneficial or harmful to humans, animals and other plants. Plus, trees are a renewable resource, unlike chemicals, derived from petroleum.

While most trees produce chemicals to protect themselves against common enemies like animals, bacteria and fungi, these same chemicals may be helpful to humans.  One of the most notable helpful chemicals comes from the bark of the white willow – you know it is aspirin.

Another notable helpful chemical comes from the bark of the cinchona tree – you may know it as quinine. Quinine is not only used to treat malaria, but is also used to make gin and tonic, a popular drink.

The last one is a chemical that comes from the bark of the Yew – taxol. It is known for its ability to stall some human cancers. Following is a list of just a few of the thousands of silvichemicals (chemicals from trees) that you may use, some on a daily basis:

  • Turpentine is found in paint, varnish, adhesives, printing ink, soaps, disinfectants, chewing gum, mouthwash, toothpaste and shampoo.
  • Chemical based cellulose is found in glass frames, sponges, yarns, cellophane, luggage, gun stocks, pens, football helmets and toothbrushes.
  • Nitrocellulose is found in explosives.
  • Torula yeast is found in baby foods, cereals, beverages and feed supplements for animals.
  • Lignosulfonates is found in cement, cosmetics, artificial vanilla, hair spray and deodorants.

Some silvichemicals are harmful, such as cyanide, found in fallen cherry leaves.  If animals eat too many of these leaves, they can die.  Another example is the plants in the poison ivy family and the fruit mango is part of this group.  These plants and fruits may cause severe skin irritation.

Trees are living organic, chemical factories.  These factories produce both beneficial and harmful chemicals.  Trees can produce tasty chemicals, too, like maple syrup for on pancakes.

So the next time you take a look at a tree, remember all the products that come from trees that are used in daily lives, like toothpaste and soap. You will never look at that tree in your front yard the same again.

If you would like to contact the Elk State Forest, please call the District Office at 814-486-3353. You can visit online at  Also check it out on Facebook at

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