Susan Handjian is a garden educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was a contributing editor of Plants and Landscapes for Summer-Dry Climates.
By: Susan Handjian , 4:48 PM GMT on April 26, 2013
Other holidays repose on the past.
Arbor Day proposes the future.
- J. Sterling Morton
In the United States, Arbor Day is typically celebrated on the final weekend of April. This year, it’s April 26. Cities throughout the United States and the rest of the world will celebrate the day by planting trees, and residents are encouraged to do the same. Many states observe Arbor Day at other times, but on the Arbor Day Foundation website, http://www.arborday.org/, you can find out when and how your own state celebrates this wonderful holiday. There are also plenty of opportunities for you to act as an individual. We’ve discussed here many times what one gardener can do for the health of the environment, and this gives you a chance to speak for the future by planting a tree.
Today, trees all over the world need protection from humans who are destroying them on a massive scale, often for development. The irony is that we’re removing the very organisms that are most effective in combating global warming. At the top of the almost endless array of benefits they provide, trees absorb carbon dioxide and expel oxygen as they produce their own food during photosynthesis. They tie up carbon in the form of cellulose in their wood, roots, and leaves. Taken together in forests, trees create a carbon sink, or storage area, as wood and not as a greenhouse gas. When these vast areas are removed or damaged, we lose vital partners in the fight for the future of our planet.
Trees are often taken for granted, but in addition to creating carbon sinks, here is a partial list of some of the other things trees do:
Clean the air by intercepting airborne particles, reducing heat and absorbing pollutants;
Fight soil erosion by binding the soil with their roots and with their leaves breaking the force of wind and rain on soil;
Clean the soil by absorbing pollutants that have entered the soil. This is called phytoremediation.
Slow storm water runoff by transpiration;
Provide shade and cooling to people, animals and plants, thereby reducing air conditioning costs by as much as 50%;
Muffle noise from neighbors, busy streets, even freeways;
Increase property values by 15% or more;
Act as windbreaks, protecting open fields from the drying effects of wind, protecting homes and resulting in dramatically lower heating costs;
Provide protection, pleasure and beauty.
I’ve always loved trees, and still remember with greatest clarity the two silver maples that anchored either edge of the front lawn of our family home on a ranch deep in the Sacramento Delta. In a windswept and sometimes very hot environment, those trees provided my sister Linda and me with a protected and cool oasis as we planned our next adventure. To my five year old mind, it was the shade and feeling of security they provided that meant everything. I had no idea then what amazing things these trees were doing as they stood still and silent, often the only witnesses to our shenanigans.
As a college student in 1968, I came upon a brand new book in the library by the photographer Andreas Feininger called Trees that opened my eyes and transformed my nebulous and sort of romantic love of trees for beauty only into a clear understanding of just why these organisms are so vital to our success as a species. It contained amazing photographs of some of the great trees of the world and radiated respect and admiration for the crucial role played by trees in the economic and spiritual development of human civilization. It was a call to protect the great number of trees being cut indiscriminately for economic gain. I was mesmerized by the book and the sentiments in it, and although I couldn’t afford to buy it then, I do own a copy now. It may be out of print, but I see used copies available from time to time. It’s as fresh and meaningful as it was almost 50 years ago, and is full of useful information. I highly recommend it.
There are several other books I’d like to recommend to you if you want to deepen your understanding of the value of trees. William Bryant Logan explores what trees have meant to humans in the development of our civilizations in his wonderful book Oak: The Frame of Civilization. A more recent book is Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo with stunning photography by Robert Llewellyn. A personal favorite is Remarkable Trees of the World by Thomas Pakenham. The author/photographer traveled the world to capture images of some of the world’s most iconic trees. I guarantee that you’ll never look at trees again the same way.
Despite the difficulties trees are facing now, there are a number of dedicated organizations the world over that are working tirelessly to propagate and plant trees and to fight against the daily destruction of breathtakingly large numbers of trees through education about their value.
The Ancient Tree Archive (http://www.ancienttreearchive.org/) is archiving the genetics of what they call the ancient champion trees from around the world and is creating clones. Clones of coast redwood are ready to be planted during Earth Week 2013. I found out about this remarkable organization from an article by Jim Robbins in The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/12/opinion/why-tree s-matter.html?_r=0). It turns out that Robbins has written a book called The Man Who Planted Trees about the work of the group. Visit the website to find out about their inspirational work.
Tree People (www.treepeople.org/) is a group with which I’ve long been familiar, probably because it’s based in Los Angeles, the archetype of a city where trees don’t count for much. There’s something especially inspiring about this group because its founder, Andy Lipkis, founded the organization when he was still a teenager. He started with an idea born of seeing his neighborhood lose its trees, a sterling example of the power of one.
Trees are Good (www.treesaregood.com/) is an educational organization founded by the International Society of Arboriculture. It’s full of very useful information about the selection and care of trees. I consult it often to get the last word on tree care.
Trees for the Future (http://www.treesforthefuture.org/) is international in scope and works to bring tree seedlings to parts of the world where deforestation is threatening the very survival of societies. They have invested heavily in Haiti, providing tree planting, agroforestry training and technical support to hurricane ravaged lands. It also created the eye opening poster below.
These and many more are all non-profit organizations that deserve your support. The planet needs people willing to do the work necessary to protect our trees and our selves. The future of our descendants depends on it.
This is my final blog post for Weather Underground. It's been a tremendously rewarding time for me, and I'm grateful to Weather Underground for giving me the opportunity. I can only hope that some of the ideas I've shared with you have meant something, have provided knowledge and support and perhaps a new perspective on the relevance and importance of gardening, which as we know is so much more than digging a hole and sticking a plant in it. I wish all of you the very best in your pursuits in your own gardens.
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