A wonderful way to catch what is being lost is to ask a child “Have you ever heard of….?” and find out what they have never heard of. A lot of people have never heard of Arbor Day, one of those old fashioned holidays that seems to belong in a black and white movie. It is an old holiday as American holidays go, J. Sterling Morton founded Arbor Day back in 1872 to set aside a special day for tree planting. He was a pioneer in Nebraska who loved gardening. Nebraska was covered by great expanses of grassland, the pastures that once supported vast herds of buffalo, but the settlers were traditional farmers. Plowing the land exposed the soil to the ever present winds of the Great Plains and caused wind erosion. To protect the field trees were planted as wind breaks, and fruit trees were planted for food. People also missed the trees they knew in their former homes. Even New Yorkers were used to trees, Central Park was established in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) and the park’s first area was opened to the public in the winter of 1858. Think what the demand must have been for a city to give up so much land that could have been built on and brought in tax revenue.
Although it started in Nebraska, other states picked up the holiday through the 1870’s and after. In the 1880s schools routinely included Arbor day activities for students. The standard Arbor Day date is usually the last Friday in April, but as the holiday was added on a state by state basis, dates of celebration vary. It seems that this fragmentation of the day might be the reason I encounter so many who are unaware of it. Nothing closes, life goes on at it’s usual hectic pace. Schools can barely keep up with the changing curriculum demands and too many people of all ages are hiding in their electronics.
I think that Arbor Day should be as well know and celebrated as Earth Day. Even as Earth Day participants share ways to cut pollution, trees silently do this all day, every day of the year. They stabilize soil and prevent erosion and stream pollution as well as processing carbon dioxide. For urban dwellers they provide a small tastte of soul renewing nature in an artificial world more suited to Mr. Smith from the Matrix They provide food and shelter for people and wildlife, housing materials, furniture, cat posts and perches, and a wonderful medium for artists, whether for drawing and painting, or sculpting and turning.
And they are under siege. If trees are the super-heroes, there is a gallery of exotic villains opposing them as bad as any Batman or Dick Tracy faced. Like this fellow here, as bizarre as any character from the comics. His favorite target is maple trees, so if you like maple syrup, you won’t like him. He also goes after birches, elms, willows, buckeyes and several other species. He is an illegal alien of the worst sort, an invasive species. According to the USDA “The ALB has the potential to cause more damage than Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight and gypsy moths combined, destroying millions of acres of America’s treasured hardwoods, including national forests and backyard trees.”
Here in Virginia, this one is triggering the “Be on the lookout for,” alerts. Not bad looking as insects go, but destructive in a bad way. “The Emerald Ash Borer is responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees in 25 states in the Midwest and Northeast.” again per the USDA. One way this insect spreads is through firewood transport and there is a campaign on here to alert people to the problem and have them burn only local wood.
Evergreen trees have their villains, too. My least favorite insects are sap suckers who leave sticky messes even while killing what they feed on. I can have little sympathy for these creatures. It’s hard to believe that these tiny vampires could bring down a huge hemlock but they do. Would you want this as decoration on your Christmas tree? I think not. Just because the preferred target here is hemlocks, don’t think there are not other threats to pines, spruces and other conifers.
Then you through in water and air pollution, fungal and bacterial infections, deforestation for development or farming and there is no question trees need all the help they can get. Lest it seem this is a North American problem, I can assure you it is not. Ireland deals with large pine beetles and Modova with nasty American tent caterpillars, for example. So please support and celebrate Arbor Day. Learn about trees, plant them and watch out for their pests. Get outside and enjoy the cherry blossoms or the blooming dogwoods and when you bite into a plum, orange, apple or peach, remember it cam from a tree. In the modern world, trees need us as much as we need them. Arbor Day is a great reminder of what we have and what we can do to protect it. Otherwise what’s on the horizon in the future may look like this.