Friday, January 20, 2012

The Best Time To Plant A Tree Is Now

Myrtle Oak
Teresa Watkins copyright 2012

Florida's Arbor Day, the third Friday in January was designated as a holiday to celebrate trees. I was asked to speak at the City of Mount Dora's tree planting ceremony at the historic Simpson house.  The following is from my speech:

Trees are the oldest living organisms on earth. Trees produce many of our basic necessities in life. Trees fulfill our lives 24 hours a day with better goods, food, entertainment, sports, and communication. In the 17th century, when the first settlers came to our east coast shores, they were amazed and thankful for the bountiful forests. Over a century later, millions of acres of trees had become homes, buildings, churches, and transportation. When the pioneers ventured west, they encountered for the first time, our prairie ecosystems. There was no protection from shade or winds. There were no trees for construction or fuel. They had to build their homes out of prairie sod. Agriculture was hampered by soil erosion. It was a hard life being a pioneer on the prairies.

In 1872, J. Sterling Morton, editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper, went to the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture and proposed a holiday and contest to plant trees on April 10, The holiday was called Arbor Day. Prizes were awarded to cities, counties and people who had planted the most trees. That first Arbor Day, over one million trees were planted in Nebraska. It changed the state forever. Today Nebraska has over 1million acres of forests.

In 1885, Arbor Day became a legal holiday and other states adopted the practice of planting trees on their own designated Arbor Day. In 1970, President Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day. Florida celebrated Arbor Day for the first time in 1886. Later, state foresters changed the date of Florida’s Arbor Day to the third week in January because it’s an optimum time to plant trees. Because of the great work, the city of Mount Dora has done over the years in protecting and planting trees, Mount Dora has received designation as a Tree City USA community.

The United States contain 8 percent of the world’s forests. And because of Arbor Day and an awareness of the valuable resource of trees through conservation and education, there are more trees in the United States then there were 100 years ago. We now use renewable species of trees for manufacturing.

“According to the (FAO) the Food and Agriculture Organization, forest growth has exceeded harvest since the 1940s…by 1997; the volume of forest growth was 380 percent greater that it had been in 1920.”

Trees provide us with nearly half of the materials the United States manufactures. And actually, the average American uses the equivalent of a tree about 100’ tall and 18’ in diameter. Over 5,000 products that we use on a daily basis come from trees. You can easily recognize building materials, furniture, paper products, but did you know the following products also come from trees?

Chemicals and resins from trees are used as key ingredients for paint, varnish, adhesives, asphalt, artificial vanilla flavoring, cereals, chewing gum, hair spray, mouthwash, soaps, shampoos, tires, and toothpaste.

Cellulose, found in tree cell walls, is used as a food thickener for snacks, milk shakes, ice cream, cake frosting, and pancake syrup. Cellulose is also used in items you can’t eat such as eyeglass frames, egg cartons, steering wheels, hairbrush handles, cellophane, and camera film.

Some little known facts about trees:

• One large tree can lift up to 100 gallons of water out of the ground and discharge it into the air in a day.

• Trees are in essence big batteries. They trap more of the sun's energy than any other group of organisms on earth.

• Only one tenth of the sun's energy is trapped by organisms -- trees account for 50% of all energy trapped by organism.

• If you take its weight into consideration, almost 98% of a tree is made up of six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur.

• If a birdhouse is hung on a tree branch, it does not move up the tree as the tree grows.

• Different parts of the tree grow at different times of the year. A typical pattern is for most of the foliage to grow in the spring, followed by trunk growth in the summer and root grow more in the fall and winter.

• Most trees do not have a tap root.

• Tree roots do not grow very deep. Most tree roots are in the top 12 inches of soil.

• Tree roots often extend two to three times the width of the tree.

• There are over 400 billion trees on the planet or to personalize it, there are about 61 trees per person.
With the increased promotion and appreciation of trees from Arbor Day, Americans began to select their state trees. While I won’t expound on the fact that palms are not trees, our state tree is the Sabal Palm, Sabal palmetto. Our national tree is the oak tree, which Mount Dora has many magnificent examples. The century-old live oak trees that you see throughout Mount Dora are endemic to the soils surrounding the city and had to be one of the many reasons the Simpson family decided to homestead here in 1874.

Sabal palmetto
Teresa Watkins copyright 2012
 The significance of trees can be seen in our literature, songs, national parks, vacation memories, and the heart-wrenching sadness people feel when massive oak trees are ripped down by hurricane-like storms as they were here in Mount Dora in the spring of 1993 and historic ancient trees, such as the Senator are destroyed by fire last week. 

Chionanthus virginica
by Teresa Watkins copyright 2012
Planting trees is a wonderful way to celebrate humanity and the earth It’s important to teach the value of native ecosystems and the proper locations for trees to create healthier and waterwise landscapes. It’s important for Floridians to protect and plant more native species as we are doing today. The Lake and Hills Garden Club, researched the planting site, and selected a native tree that would thrive in Central Florida with low maintenance. The Chionanthus virginica, the American Fringetree is zoned for 9a, grows to be 12’ to 20’ tall and 10’ wide. It needs moist to dry soils with an acidic pH. It thrives in full sun or morning sun and afternoon shade. The Fringetree produces white flowers in early springtime. Another reason, the garden club members liked the native tree, also called Old Man's Beard, because it not only provides food but also nesting resources for wildlife.

Native plant species are important to keep ecosystems and habitats diverse and healthy. Native trees from the time they emerge as seedlings to the time they are mature provide environmental niches for many types of wildlife in various phases of their lives. Young seedlings are of greatest value to early-successional wildlife that requires thick brushy cover, such as rabbits and songbirds. Young trees do not produce a significant amount of mast (fruit) until maturity, usually around 20 years old, but young trees can seen as important places for resting and insect foraging.

Florida pines and other fast growing trees provide little food sources but are an excellent source of winter and roosting cover, and they can provide important foraging substrate for insect-eating birds, especially migrating warblers like woodpeckers and warblers .

If we lose our native plant species, we will endanger valuable wildlife and bird populations. The creatures and habitat that awed and inspired the first settlers in the 19th century and the 20th century tourists seeing Florida for the first time could disappear.

How do trees benefit humans? One large tree can provide a day's supply of oxygen for up to four people. Trees in our landscapes reduce air conditioning and heating bills by providing shade from the sun and windbreaks from the cold winds. Shading windows and walls can lower AC costs by 25 percent. Landscapes with mature trees can increase property values by 25 percent. Seven year old boy and girls climbing and sitting in a tree canopy contemplating life or looking through the air at the rooftops has immeasurable benefits. We should all climb and sit in trees more. The world would be a better place.

I hope today that this celebration of Arbor Day will increase awareness of the beautiful native tree species we have here in Florida. I wish that everyone attending will go home and assess their yard for the proper site conditions and plant a native species that will enhance their landscape and increase the multiple benefits that trees provide Mount Dora.

As the Chinese proverb says: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

More information on how to plant a tree.

Lake and Hills Garden Club Arbo

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