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Arboriculture developed as a branch of the plant science of horticulture. While this career is related to the study of forestry, arborists view their specimens on an individual level; foresters manage trees as a group.

Trees are important to the environment. Besides releasing oxygen back to the atmosphere, trees enrich soil with their fallen, decaying leaves, and their roots aid in the prevention of soil erosion. Trees provide shelter and a source of food for many different types of animals. People use trees as ornamentation. Trees are often planted to protect against the wind and glare of the sun, block offensive views, mark property lines, and provide privacy. Trees and shrubs often add considerably to a home's property value.

All trees need proper care and seasonal maintenance. The occupation of tree surgeon, as arborists were first known, came from the need for qualified individuals to care for trees and shrubs, as well as woody vines and ground-cover plants. Trees planted in busy city areas and in the suburbs face pollution, traffic, crowding, extreme temperatures, and other daily hazards. City trees often have a large percentage of their roots covered with concrete. Roots of larger trees sometimes interfere with plumbing pipes, sidewalks, and building foundations. Branches can interfere with buildings or power lines. Trees located along the sides of roads and highways must be maintained; branches are pruned, and fallen leaves and fruit are gathered. Proper intervention, if not prevention, of diseases is an important task of arborists.

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