Over the years, odds are favorable that you have participated in an Arbor Day event. Maybe you planted a tree at your school, picked up a tree from a giveaway, or attended a dedication service with your local city or county.
Arbor (“Tree”) Day is an international celebration, but it was homegrown here in the United States. A journalist and naturalist named J. Sterling Morton started the event in 1872. After moving to the grasslands of Nebraska, he found that trees could break up the cold, strong winds of the midwestern plains. In the very first year of its celebration, Nebraskans planted a million new trees! Within 40 years, the celebration had expanded to the rest of the country, and was particularly popular with schoolchildren.
Today, millions of communities and schools celebrate Arbor Day all over the world. Trees provide endless benefits, including shade, recreation, food and building products, wildlife habitat, oxygen production, and carbon dioxide uptake. We plant trees for our own use but also for the benefit of future generations; to commemorate special moments, and to provide the very oxygen we breathe. As the Greek proverb goes, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Nationally, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April, very close to Earth Day. However, each state has a designated Arbor Day, based on local climatological conditions. Winter is the best time of year to plant trees, as they can establish roots without competing with the energy needs of new branches and leaves that come along in springtime. Our state celebration this year is January 21st.
Here in Escambia County, we have celebrated Arbor Day with tree giveaways and educational programs for many years. In the past few years, we added a tree-themed art contest to engage more people. A local forestry company donates prize money, and the top three winners in the youth, teen, and adult categories can win trees, gardening supplies, and books. To enter, participants can send artwork to me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or regular postal mail (see flyer). Art must be original, and include the artist’s name, age, and a phone number or email contact.
This year our tree giveaways will be from 10 am-noon on Saturday, January 15, in partnership with the West Florida Regional Library system. Locations for three concurrent giveaways are the Southwest Branch (12248 Gulf Beach Highway, Pensacola, FL 32507), Tryon Branch (1200 Langley Avenue, Pensacola, FL 32504), and Pensacola Main Library (239 N. Spring Street, Pensacola, FL 32502). At least 100 trees of four different species will be given away at each site, including pond cypress, dahoon holly, mayhaw, and red maple. The holly is evergreen, while cypress and red maple provide beautiful fall color. The mayhaw is a smaller fruit tree that many people use for making jelly. Participants may take home two trees per family, and the library will provide family-friendly activities and education during and after the giveaways.
For more information on tree selection and care, check out our resources from the University of Florida horticulture department.