4 Lessons we can learn from Nature for Miyawaki mini forests

We’ve all seen those deforestation videos…

Mainly in the Amazon. It’s heartbreaking to see bulldozers destroying the Green Lung of the planet.

Compared to the previous century, the rate of deforestation is slowing down. But it still exists!

Attitudes are also changing. We are now aware of climate change and its impacts on our daily lives. Efforts are currently being made for reforestation. I studied the subject for a few years to do my part in the fight against climate change.

There are different ways to take part in the reforestation effort:

– make a donation to an Non-governmental organization (NGO)

– select companies that will devote part of the money you give them to plant trees for you (worst case: “Buy a plane ticket and we will plant a tree for you to compensate”…)

For me, the mind-blowing discovery was when I found the work of Doctor Akira Miyawaki. He first studied Nature before developing a new planting technique. He applied all his lessons learned on his reforestation projects. This took the local reforestation effort to a different higher level.

In this blog post, I will share all the major things I learned from my mentor, Dr. Akira Miyawaki. And why we should first learn from Nature before any action…

Doctor Akira Miyawaki holding a young tree during a reforestation event

Who is Dr Akira Miyawaki?


Akira Miyawaki was born in Japan in 1928. He graduated in biology and became a botanist inspired by the potential of Nature.

It all started with something he noticed. The forests around Japanese temples were quite different from others he went to. Around these sacred temples, no human being is allowed to touch Nature. Thus, trees and forests can thrive naturally, without human intervention.

It was his first premonition. Then he studied how Nature developed forests in its own way. Compared to man-made forests, he wanted to understand why natural forests were much:

– denser

– richer

– more resilient.

Dr. Akira Miyawaki has spent his entire life studying local environments. The main goal was to find out which characteristics were most suitable for his reforestation projects. He enriched the concept of “Potential Natural Vegetation”. The selection of indigenous species adapted to the local environment is a major step forward in boosting planted forests. He has applied it to more than 1,700 reforestation projects around the world, in different environments.

Here are the main lessons he discovered. From now on, we apply these principles in the Miyawaki method of reforestation.

an aerial photo of a forest showing a high density of trees

Lesson #1 – Close collaboration provides the best results


What is striking when you walk inside a natural forest or a jungle is the density of the trees. You can barely cross it sometimes.

As the opposite, in an artificial forest for the timber industry, you have 1 tree every 10 meters, planted in a line.

In a previous blog post (https://restoreforest.com/5-things-most-people-do-not-know-about-trees/), I explained why trees like to grow with high density.

We believe that trees will compete for light. This common saying comes from the lumber industry. With their approach, young trees need to grow fast and straight, under the sunlight. They’re like fast-growing teenagers on steroids! Only short-term growth. Then we cut them young to produce wood…

In the natural forests, we let them live a happy and quiet life. Each member of the forest has its place in the ecosystem. From the old tree to the young shoots, from the tree that loves sunlight to the species that prefer more shade.

With this high density, they also interconnect their roots underground. They share nutrients and information. Scientists call this underground network the “Wood Wide Web”!

This explains the higher growth rate of Miyawaki forests. Despite reduced sun exposure, there is a cooperative effort. In the end, they grow 10 times faster than conventional man-made forests. In the timber industry, trees are isolated. Here they work together, they collaborate and share for the common good.

Dr. Akira Miyawaki first studied local environments on his more than 1,700 reforestation projects around the world. The aim was to adapt to the local needs. He planted from 2 trees/m² up to 7 trees/m² (mangrove projects). On our side, for our projects in temperate forests, we plant 3 trees/m². And we can see how it is thriving compared to man-made forests!

A production of birch trees in straight lines for wood industry

Lesson #2 – Diversity is the key to build a resilient system


To simplify logistics and management, man creates forests most often in monoculture. It’s much easier to handle. You have a scale effect on costs because you only buy the same species of sapling. You only know one species. You can anticipate its growth to calculate your return on investment. You get an army of clone trees. It is mass production.

But what happens when a sudden change occurs in this clean environment? A new disease, an imported pest, more frequent droughts due to climate change…? How adaptable is this type of plantation to new hazards?

This type of monotonous forest has a low adaptive capacity. An example is what is happening in parts of Europe with spruces and bark beetles. The spruce has roots that remain in the upper level of the ground. Heat waves and successive droughts have weakened the spruces. Then, the bark beetles spot the weak trees and start digging into their trunks.

You can notice these attacks in the red/ginger-brown color of the treetops or with the dry needles. The bark beetle spreads quickly and easily from spruce to spruce. In the end, we can see large burnt hills of dead trees… The only solution is to cut down all these trees to limit the spread.

In natural forests, several dozen species are present. With a great mix of deciduous and evergreen species. This makes it a resilient forest, able to handle outside attacks. There is no domino effect like in a monoculture forest. Species side by side will be able to stop the attack. Stronger trees will share nutrients with weaker ones. Species with deeper roots will bring water to others. It is an anti-fragile system.

In our Miyawaki mini-forests, we plant 30 different species on the same parcel. This diversity brings robustness. Mixing species will also create multi-layered 3D forests. Trees do not grow at the same speed and do not have the same mature height. In our Miyawaki forests, we plant different species according to their 4 final heights:

– shrub layer

– sub-tree layer

– tree layer

– canopy layer

Dense multi-layered forest will be a shield against the burning sun and storm winds. The forest will keep moisture allowing all members to thrive and adapt.

A photo of a jungle with a chaos organization

Lesson #3 – Life is chaos, accept it and adapt


On monoculture forests, trees are planted:

– in rows

– with the same spacing between each other

– with clear paths for large machinery.

This type of control is more the domain of a factory than related to Nature.

In natural forests, fertilization is done by the wind or by wandering pollinators. Young trees begin life at the foot of the mother or tree or a few miles away. It is a total random disorder.

While walking through a natural forest, you noticed that there is no clear pattern. It’s all about chaos. In doing so, forests mix species and members in a disorganized way.

This tactic is best for protection from windstorms, powerful floods, or heavy snow. Any outside energy that attempts to attack the forest will be dissipated in turbulent flows. There will be no chain reaction with a domino effect over a long distance. In Japan, Miyawaki forests are even planted on the coast to mitigate the effects of tsunamis.

Some would say it is pure luck. That Nature doesn’t do this on purpose. Maybe. But this Chaos model is an optimized system. This approach has been effective throughout evolution and has been repeated over generations.

I’m sure we can learn from Nature about the structure of chaos when it comes to urban planning patterns. Some urban architects organize cities in geometric blocks. These cities are quite fragile during storms or floods.

This Nature management of chaos has been applied in the Miyawaki planting technique. For us, for example, we provide 3 saplings per square meter to the planter. Then it’s up to you and your creativity to plant it as you like in your square. This gives a plantation that has a non-linear layout and that is much closer to what Nature does.

A photo of a healthy soil, rich in organic added materials

Lesson #4 – You need a healthy base to thrive


To keep growing, you need good roots. This is true for trees but also for human beings 😊.

When you imagine a natural forest or even a jungle, you can easily feel a soft and smooth ground. In comparison, most urban lands have a compact soil. It has been compacted by years of human activity, rolling with heavy machinery. On this soil, it will be quite difficult and energy-consuming for trees to develop roots.

In the Miyawaki method, soil preparation is a cornerstone. We add different types of organic matter:

– perforator

– nourishment

– water retention

This generates a soft and healthy soil. We don’t need pesticides or chemical fertilizers. Nature brings all the organic enrichment, in a balanced ecosystem.

Good health of the soil is the basis of a thriving forest. For 2 years, you will weed twice a year in your Miyawaki forest. After that, your mini forest will be completely maintenance-free. Mulching with straw/hay will decay. The leaves will fall to the ground enriching it. It will generate high-quality humus.

On one of our very first Miyawaki forests, I was amazed by the quality of the soil. I was back on this site few years after the tree planting. I walked on this soft ground of the plantation. I dug with the shovel to check the soil and humus. It was like a chocolate cake! Dark, aerated and soft.

This healthy soil is a major contributor to the success of Miyawaki forests. This partly explains why the seedling survival rate is better with Miyawaki forests. It is around 90% in a Miyawaki forest compared to 65% in a conventional plantation.


Here are the 4 lessons that can be learned from Nature for reforestation:

Lesson #1 – Close collaboration  provides the best results

Lesson #2 – Diversity is the key to build a resilient system

Lesson #3 – Life is chaos, accept it and adapt

Lesson #4 – You need a healthy base to thrive


Nature and us, we live in two different time scales. We, we are interested in what we need to do the next day, and sometimes even the next minute to fill our lives. Trees can live for several centuries. Or even several thousand years for World Records!

Nature has had time to experiment over the long term. It has tested iteratively to find the best optimized ecosystem. We should make the most of Nature’s wisdom. Let’s apply it for our new organizations, structures or projects.

This is why the Miyawaki methodology of reforestation is so powerful. It begins by observing Nature and tries to imitate it. So let’s team up with Nature and rewild our future with Nature-inspired reforestation projects.


  1. Efi

    Merci pour l’article ! Dans ma ville ils ont planté une foret Miyawaki ! J’ai hâte de voir le résultat 🙂

  2. ondespositivesfr

    La nature a tellemnt de chose à nous apprendre, dommage que nous soyons si peu à son écoute

  3. Hugo de Time Booster

    Congrats for this dense article ! I made me think of the documentary of Hugo Décrypte on YouTube

  4. Claire

    Thanks for this article. It’s very interesting to learn about reforestation. I didn’t know that the reforestation is slowing down, it’s a very good news and it makes me optimist for the future!

  5. Anne Prudent

    Nature is the best teacher. It’s good to listen to these lessons.
    Thanks for this inspiring article


    Thank you for this nice and interesting article. Like you I am sure that nature is chaos and it is better like this, humans always want to dominate nature, it is a terrible error.


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