Back in the 70s, if you’d ask any Japanese citizen (or any person living in Japan for more than a few years), they would have told you that conifer trees, meaning the ones usually dominating local forest, were indigenous to the land.
It took the research of botanist Akira Miyawaki to prove otherwise. The trees many Japanese people thought came together into forests on their own were actually created by humans. Due to the natural climate of the land, deciduous trees are, in fact, indigenous. But these common trees were an introduced species, planted for centuries to produce timber, which acclimated through the years. Naturally-occurring conifers are usually present exclusively at high altitudes and extreme environments, such as mountains.
This discovery is what lead the botanist to see the trees in a different light, and over time, to even develop a rather revolutionary way to plant trees, known today as the "Miyawaki Method," a way to effectively speed up the growth of trees and plants by as much as 10 times.
What Is The Miyawaki Method?
The Miyawaki Method aims to rebuild indigenous forests with indigenous trees to create a rich, and dense forest in just a few decades, as opposed to hundreds of years. According to one study on the Brazilian Atlantic forest, it can take as much as 4000 years for the landscape to naturally recover.
The Miyawaki Method uses 6 steps to work:
- Surveying the site and researching the natural landscape;
- Identifying the indigenous plants of the area and collecting seeds;
- Germinating the special that will be planted in a controlled environment first;
- Preparing the site prior to planting the trees and other plants if needed;
- Planting the species while also respecting the natural model of the forest;
- Ensuring plantation is randomly distributed through the land, the way a forest would naturally develop, as opposed to planting the trees in rows.
Does It Work?
Studies that have looked into the effects of the Miyawaki Method have mostly come back with positive conclusions. In Japan alone, over 90 million trees have been planted along the coastlines to protect the land against tsunamis. Worldwide, other countries and groups have given the Miyawaki Method a chance, and have indeed confirmed the method is effective and delivers on its promises.
But not everyone is convinced. Some critics worry that the Miyawaki Method would serve as an incentive to cut more trees, as the forests can be easily re-grown using this method. Environmentalist Yellappa Reddy has also questioned if making the forest grow much faster than its normal rate is safe, and a good long-term solution.
Still, it cannot be denied that the Miyawaki Method could help some areas regrow their indigenous forestation, especially since the risks of severe wildfires are increasing. According to Global Forest Watch Fires, there were over 4.5 million fires worldwide in 2019 alone. The reasons are complex, but scientists think that warmer sees might act as fire accelerators. The warmer the oceans get, the less CO2 they can absorb. And since the natural reforestation process can take a few thousand years, the Miyawaki Method can serve as an excellent way to speed it up with amazing results.
How to Grow a Forest with the Miyawaki Method
One of the most compelling perks of the Miyawaki Method, besides the fact that it's the fastest way we can grow a forest, is that, for the most part, it is easy to be applied even at smaller scales where you may lack extensive resources. Forestation groups like Afforest have developed DIY-style methodologies that can be consulted for free and applied even by those who simply want a dense, indigenous forest in their own backyard.
Here's a quick look at the 6 basic steps of the Miyawaki Method:
1. Determine the Type of Soil You’re Working with
The texture of the soil can help indicate the water holding capacity, infiltration, root perforation abilities, and nutrient retention. It’s possible that the soil will need some extra preparation before plantation can begin.
2. Choosing the Trees
The Miyawaki Method dictates you must try and plant as many species as you can for biodiversity. To do that, you can research the native species of trees in your area, and choose at least five different ones to serve as the primary species (meaning the ones you’ll plant most), and add other, fewer supporting species, about 20% of the total forest.
3. Make the Layout
Establish the exact area where the forest will be and make sure you can get sufficient water in the area easily. Watering the forest in the first three years it's paramount for the success of this method. After this, the forest will become self-sufficient.
4. Prepare the Area
The site must be prepared for plantation by first removing all the debris or weeds that may interfere with the growth of the forest. Stones or big rocks should also be taken from the area, as they can interfere with the layout of the forest.
Additionally, this is the time where you need to focus on installing the watering system if the forest is far from sources of water.
5. Planting the Trees
You should plant the trees randomly, and not in an orderly fashion. That way you can help recreate the natural appearance of forests and encourage biodiversity. It’s said that Miyawaki would often include children in his reforestation activities to ensure the trees would be randomly dispersed across the area.
6. Monitor the Forest
You will need to look after the new forest for the first 2-3 years to see if everything is going according to plan and if the trees are growing.
Additionally, you also have to:
- Water the forest once a day;
- Keep it weed-free in its first years;
- Make sure the plants stay straight;
- Remove any other debris or trash it could collect;
- Avoid chemicals or pesticides;
Be prepared for some saplings not to make it. The mortality rate is estimated at around 2%, so it will still leave with a lot of healthy trees.
Over to You
Planting a tree is easy and it usually takes under 30 minutes to do it. Caring for it and growing it takes a lot more effort and time. That's where the Miyawaki Method can make a considerable difference. It provides ten times faster growth compared to the regular plantation and the result is a forest that is 30% more dense than regular.
We've done a lot of harm to our planet, but not all hope is lost. We can help, our reforestation projects are replenishing large areas and do it at a fast pace. Take action now and help us replant. You can learn more about our mission here.
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