Posts tagged ‘Arbor Day’

Celebrating Trees: Inspiring Arbor Day Stories

It’s Arbor Day! That means it’s time to celebrate all of the wonderful benefits that we get from trees, and to plant trees to increase those benefits. Newspaper editor J. Sterling Morton is usually credited with first proposing the tree-planting holiday called “Arbor Day” in Nebraska in 1872. While Morton’s Arbor Day was a first in the United States, the celebration of a day devoted to trees actually has roots hundreds of years earlier.

The first documented celebration of an Arbor Day was organized by the mayor in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo in 1594. Today, a small marker commemorating this event can still be found in the town (now known as Alameda de los Remedios). The first “modern day” Arbor Day happened in Spain in 1805 in the village of Villanueva de la Sierra and was organized by a local priest, Don Ramón Vacas Roxo. According to author and professor Miguel Herrero Uceda, Don Ramón was “convinced of the importance of trees for health, hygiene, decoration, nature, environment and customs” and decided “to plant trees and give a festive air.” After celebrating Mass on Carnival Tuesday, Roxo, accompanied by other clergy, teachers, and villagers, planted a poplar tree. The celebration and plantings lasted three days. The priest was so moved by the importance of trees that he wrote a manifesto in their defense and sent it to neighboring towns to encourage people to protect nature and establish tree plantations.

Villanueva de la Sierra Arbor Day monument

A monument commemorating the first modern day Arbor Day in the village of Villanueva de la Sierra, Spain. Photo by Miguel Herrero Uceda.

Many decades later, the message and spirit of Arbor Day had spread throughout the world. In 1977, Kenyan political and environmental activist Wangari Maathai started a grassroots movement known as the Green Belt Movement. It organized women in rural Kenya to plant trees in order to combat deforestation and erosion and provide future food and firewood, all the while empowering the women involved. The movement has planted over 50 million trees, and tens of thousands of women have received training in environmentally sustainable trades. Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Women planting trees

Kahuro Women’s Group planting trees in Kiharu, Kenya as part of the Green Belt Movement. Photo courtesy of the Green Belt Movement.

One of the most inspiring stories about people and trees comes out of India. In 1979, a local teenager named Jadav Payeng began noticing that on the island of Majuli, his home, erosion was taking vegetation and land away, and many of the native animal species along with it. Majuli is the largest river island in the world, located in the middle of the Brahmaputra River, and is vulnerable to the tides of many tributaries. Seasonal flooding was leaving large areas of the island barren, while washing other areas away completely. Payeng was concerned by what he saw, so he planted twenty bamboo seedlings on a sandbar to help prevent this erosion from continuing. He was so inspired to save his home in this way that he continued to plant trees and scatter tree seeds to help reforest the island. Today, he is responsible for planting a forest that is now approximately 1,400 acres, more than one and a half times larger than New York City’s Central Park! Deer, tigers, rhinoceroses, and elephants have moved into the dense forest, along with returning bird species that had not been seen in the area for decades.

Jadav Payeng standing in the forest

Jadav Payeng, known as “The Forest Man of India,” looking over his forest. Polygon Window Productions.

This Arbor Day, let’s be inspired by these stories of how individuals can make a large and lasting impact on our world. If you can, plant a tree (or several), care for the trees that you already have, or volunteer for a neighborhood tree advocacy group. We can all make a difference and improve our world with trees!

-Greg Huse, Arborist, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager

The Smithsonian Tree Collection is maintained by Smithsonian Gardens and features close to 1,900 accessioned specimens throughout the Smithsonian museum grounds and gardens surrounding the National Mall, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the Smithsonian support facilities in Maryland. Click here to learn more about the Smithsonian Tree Collection.

April 29, 2016 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Hello from the Newest Addition to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection

Hi Friends!

Happy Arbor Day!  My name is Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’, or columnar European Hornbeam. I feel right at home here at the National Air and Space Museum as all the rockets in Gallery 114 look a lot like….me! The name fastigiata comes from the Latin word meaning “soaring”. While I’ll never reach the moon, I will reach 40 feet tall. My fall color is fiery yellow and orange, and my bark is grey and muscular-looking.

Here are a few snapshots from my planting this morning. It’s a pleasure becoming the 1901st addition to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection, and I hope to enjoy many years at the Smithsonian!

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Click here learn more about Smithsonian Gardens and the Tree Collection.

For tips on how to choose the right tree and plant it, check out these tips on proper tree planting techniques from the Smithsonian Gardens Green Team.

April 24, 2015 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Celebrates Arbor Day 2013

This year, Smithsonian Gardens is pleased to be hosting its second annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Celebration!  Although we have a great diversity of tree species here at the Smithsonian, we are always looking to add more to diversify our collection.  There are many wonderful exotic, non-invasive species that are well-suited to the growing environment in the Washington, DC area.  However, we are currently concentrating on adding more native tree species.  This year, we have chosen two different natives to plant.

Carolina Silverbell  (Halesia tetraptera)

Carolina Silverbell is a native hardwood understory tree that is typically found along slopes and streams in ravines in hardwood forests.  They favor north and east-facing aspects with moist, well-drained acidic loam soils.  They thrive in full and partial shade and have a core range in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but stretch as far as eastern Oklahoma, northern Florida, and southern Illinois.  This tree typically grows to be 30-40 feet, but can grow as high as 80 feet.  Its primary feature is beautifully bell-shaped white flowers that hang in clusters and are borne in the spring.

Carolina Silverbell  (Halesia tetraptera)

A Carolina Silverbell in full bloom.

White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

The White Fringe Tree is another native hardwood tree that is found in its natural range which stretches from southern New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas.  The species is very variable, and no two trees seem to be alike in all characteristics.  The Fringe Tree can grow in a variety of conditions, and is cold hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit.  As with the Carolina Silverbell, this tree’s most striking feature is the flowers.  Six to eight-inch fleecy white, fragrant flowers appear in May and June and make this a beautiful addition to the landscape.

White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)

A White Fringe tree in full bloom.

On Arbor Day, Friday April 26, we will be having two tree plantings.  The White Fringe Tree will be planted at the Anacostia Community Museum, and the Carolina Silverbell will be planted at the National Museum of Air and Space, on the south side of the building adjacent to the observatory.  The Smithsonian Gardens’ Arborist and other horticulture staff will be on hand at the Air and Space event to demonstrate proper tree planting techniques and to answer questions.  The planting will take place at noon.  We hope you can join us!

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist

April 25, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment


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