Traditional methods of measuring poverty have concentrated on income and neglected other dimensions, particularly vulnerability to contingencies (e.g. illness or damage to property). This paper argued that there was insufficient emphasis in rural development and research on how poor people use assets to meet contingencies. The authors were amongst the first to highlight the use of trees in this way. Compared to other assets (e.g. bank accounts or livestock), trees required an initially low investment, appreciated in value fast and could be harvested incrementally, but they were often under disputed and unwieldy systems of tenure or difficult to market. Suggestions were made for research directions and policy reforms to enhance opportunities for poor people to use trees as a form of savings.