So many trees (Photo: Anita Ritenour/Wikimedia)

How many trees are there on Earth? There’s never been a true tree census, where people go from forest to forest counting each tree individually. The best estimates to date came from looking at satellite imagery and estimating the density of the tree cover in forested area—and they came up with wildly different results. One estimate in the mid-2000s put the total number of trees on the planet at around 400.25 billion. But a more recent study, in 2013, suggested that the Amazon alone had 390 billion individual trees.

Now, a new survey has come up with a much larger estimate of the total number of trees on Earth. According to the study, published in Nature, there are 3.04 trillion of them.

What, in this context, is a tree? Any woody plant that has a stem 10 centimeters in diameter about three feet off the ground. Where did 2.6 trillion trees come from? In theory, they were there all along: this new study made much more detailed estimates of tree density in different parts of the world, basing them on 429,775 on-the-ground measurements in more than 50 countries.

As many trees as there are, there used to be many, many more—basically twice as many, in the days before deforestation began. But we’re now cutting down trees at a rapid pace, at a net loss of about 10 billion per year. No matter what way you think about it, we’re surrounded by plants, and we’ve been waging war on them for about a century. You have to imagine that they’re pretty pissed. And maybe we should be worried — there are trillions of them, after all, and they’re all around us. 

Bonus finds: A red spider that’s not supposed to be red, a beetle that can eat poison

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