Buds are blooming into soft flowers, while new sprouts poke through the soil into the warm sunshine. Breezes weave in and out of fresh green meadows, capturing bumblebees in their gentle swirls. Perhaps the biggest change in landscapes around us is the assortment of beautiful trees dotting the horizon with green leaves crawling up their branches. Trees are such a vital part of our environment that there is a dedicated day to mark the importance of their impact — Arbor Day, celebrated nationally on the last Friday in April.
Many of my own memories growing up have involved climbing trees with my best friends, watching the stars near a leafy cove down the street from my house, or running through a whispering weeping willow near my favorite pond. Trees are my go-to silhouette when capturing a dramatic image for my Instagram (complete with appropriate song lyric!) and also provide safe shelter for the robins chirping outside my window.
But there is so much more to these natural wonders, and on Arbor Day 2016 we want to prepare you with the knowledge needed to become a tree expert!
Arbor Day is Here! But What Is It?
Once upon a time (in the 19th century), a man by the name of Julias Sterling Morton noticed the glaring lack of trees in the Nebraska area. An environmental advocate, Morton wanted to create new forestry to help cultivate a healthier atmosphere. In 1872, Morton established the official Arbor Day holiday as a formal day to plant trees, raise donations for new forests, and enrich communities. Since he had a knack for writing, he used his skills at Nebraska’s first newspaper to promote agricultural importance and encourage others to act on environmental issues as well. By 1920, more than 45 states participated in the celebration and recognized it officially. Now, all 50 states have passed legislation adopting Arbor Day in the United States!
Morton once said, “The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see this culture become universal.” And with that idea in mind, he set the stage for positive tree promotion far into the future.
Powerful Impact: The Importance of Trees
Trees transform with changing fall leaves, branches sway in the breeze, and textured trunks twist up to the sky. A study has even shown that office workers with a view of trees from their windows report significantly less stress and more satisfaction. But their importance reaches far past the visual.
Trees are natural oxygen creators. When you take a breath, you know the trees are hard at work. One large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people! Did you know more than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced in the Amazon Rainforest? That’s a lot of air—and amazing considering it’s only from one location!
To help protect rainforests, the Rainforest Alliance works to harvest resources without destroying these natural landscapes. The organization strives to show that we can keep forests thriving while also improving local communities in the process. Its TREES program works with communities and small enterprises to harvest forest products using methods that keep the forest ecosystem intact and unharmed. It’s an investing process—where the system is being created, managed, grown, and sustained in order for long-term change.
Also, trees are incredibly efficient at removing pollution in the air. In Chicago for instance, trees remove more than 18,000 tons of air pollution each year. Forests all around the world remove a vast amount of fossil fuel emissions annually. Trees help varying climate challenges, absorbing carbon dioxide and creating oxygen. During one full year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere!
Keep a tree around and you’ll never be too hot; trees are natural cooling units. If strategically placed around buildings the air conditioning costs are greatly reduced. Trees are known to lower a single household’s energy use up to 25% over the course of the year.
And don’t forget about the critters trees impact—wildlife rely on trees for shelter, food, and safety!
Shaping Landscapes: How Trees Transform Communities
Trees help shape landscapes, both urban and rural, to create successful communities.
Urban forestry is a venture that focuses on using urban areas for tree growth. Planting trees in cities can reduce energy costs for residents, reinvigorate struggling neighborhoods, and even increase property value. Mature trees positively influence real estate prices and create a beautiful landscape at the same time.
Trees can be a huge asset to urban area based on filtration, shade, and general health of a natural environment. New York City purchased thousands of upstate acres of forested watershed, creating a filtration plant large enough to clean its water supply.
In addition to urban forestry, disaster relief and reforestation initiatives help heal areas hit by crushing disasters. Forest fires take a devastating toll on trees, often wiping them out completely. This is where specific replanting efforts help renew forest areas and create a template where life can once again grow. After tornados ravaged certain Southern, Midwestern, and Northeastern U.S. states in 2011, a recovery program was put in place to help the community replant lost trees and rebuild neighborhoods.
Also smaller communities, including many college campuses across the U.S. are pledging to enrich the landscape with trees. Check to see if your college or university is a Tree Campus USA. And if not, that may be a great next step to take in your own community!
Some form of Arbor Day is celebrated all around the world! Brazil celebrates Arbor Day (or “Dia a Arvore”) in September. In Germany, “Tag des Baumes” is celebrated in late April. In India, the National Festival of Tree Planting celebration is a week-long in July. Many other countries have their own dates and events to celebrate too!
The fair trade artisan group Kichaka Poa in Nairobi, Kenya specializes in wood products. They were one of the first handicraft producers to use jacaranda wood, a fast-growing tree that is easily carved, forgoing ebony and other indigenous trees. Moses and Esther Kirimi, who own and run the workshop, are committed to responsible sourcing, efficient use and replanting efforts, keeping the ecosystem intact while materials are used for the workshop.
Another artisan group, Mitra Bali in Indonesia, has a system in place to help both the environment and the community. Mitra Bali rents land from surrounding farmers instead of buying it so the farmers can continue ownership and reap the benefits, rather than sell the land to developers. It’s a mutually-benefiting scenario: Mitra Bali has land to plant Albizia trees to supply workshop products and the farmers can cultivate the land between the trees with vegetables they then sell for extra income. It’s a long-term and sustainable success.
All over the world trees are a symbol of renewal, of hope, of strength, and of power. The Tree of Life is a universal tree symbol that spans cultures and societies. Many of our artisan groups depict trees for this very reason—to showcase beauty in life, positive growth, and unified hope. Creations like the Dream Tree wall hanging, handmade in India by CRC Exports Private Limited Craft Resource Center (CRC), is an intricate design representing innovation, creativity, and possibility.
The Magic Forest Necklace—made by taking sliced tagua nuts, dyeing them, and engraving a tree symbol—is a symbolic token of growth. In South America, these tagua nuts fall to the ground when mature so harvesting does not damage the trees. Sapia, in Colombia, is the artisan group that maintains this cultural tradition while helping forest preservation in the process.
Wherever you go around the globe, there are interesting trees shaping the landscapes. From Africa’s popular Umbrella Thorn found in variety of locations, to the Bitter Orange Trees lining the streets in Athens, Greece, unique trees grow proudly.
Celebrating the Day!
What YOU Can Do
Now that you’ve had your Arbor Day 101 education, it’s time to get involved!
TAKE ACTION! Volunteer, donate, and raise awareness of the impact we’re having on the environment. Use sustainable products, recycle, and reduce waste when you can.
PLANT A TREE! The importance of trees spans personal memories and global importance. Join Ten Thousand Villages this month and help us plant 10,000 trees to celebrate the 2016 Arbor Day and Earth Day. Donations to the Arbor Day Foundation and will help enrich, replenish, and enhance the United States National Forests. It’s a fantastic way to encourage the continual growth of the landscape around us.
When I was little I helped my dad plant a tree in my backyard. I named it Fred, and he grew up as I did. I laid out sleeping bags underneath his leaves, wrote in my journal in his cool shade, and watched as colorful birds danced in his branches. Trees are vitally important—both personally and globally. Will you help raise awareness?