Although the National Arbor Day celebration is in April, states throughout the US have their own designated dates for Arbor Day. The reason for this is optimal planting time. In Georgia and Florida, for example, trees should be planted quite a bit earlier than the last Friday in April. In states with snow on the ground in February, April (or May) is certainly more appropriate.
I used to discuss this topic every year at my kids’ K-6 elementary school. Even the youngest kids were quite adept at thinking of a few basic reasons to be thankful for our trees:
Oxygen – this was usually the first answer shouted out. Our science programs appear to be doing an excellent job getting that point across.
Shade – in the hot Georgia summer, our students knew that having a tree to shade the house, shade the swingset, or even shade the car in the parking lot was a good thing. Shade can even save money and energy.
Materials and Shelter – trees give us wood to make homes, furniture and paper as well as many other by-products. I tried to remind them that trees also provide homes for other creatures like birds and squirrels.
Food – the kids were always able to name fruits and nuts that come from trees when thinking of what trees do for us. I would also always mention that birds and squirrels get food from small fruits and nuts like acorns. I like to help them realize that humans are but a part of this world and that other creatures rely on trees as well.
Erosion Control – the older kids would often think of this one on their own. We’d talk about how mudslides occur in some areas when too many trees have been removed.
Beauty – this was not always an item that the kids thought of, but they were more than happy to agree with it when I suggested it.
Windbreaks and privacy – these are two additional reasons to appreciate trees, but they are not ones that we discussed with the kids. I think as houses get closer and closer together, more kids will probably be able to verbalize the privacy one!
So these are all great reasons. The “oxygen” one in particular has encouraged people to plant almost anything because plants=oxygen and the more the better, right? That big stand of kudzu is just an oxygen factory!
So why have native trees?
As people have learned more, we’ve come to understand that trees have special relationships with some creatures even beyond what I’ve listed above. The leaves of some trees can have a “host” arrangement with certain bugs such that a decline in those trees can result in a decline in certain bugs.
Adding just any tree (or plant) will not support these bugs because this arrangement evolved over thousands of years. Supporting native insects requires that we support native trees because they evolved together. Oh, and do you know who appreciates an abundance of native insects? Birds!
As we work our way towards National Arbor Day, take a little time to be thankful for all our trees do for us and for the critters around us. Should you have an opportunity to plant a tree (or replace one), please consider a regionally native tree for the extra benefits it will bring.
Here are some additional posts you might want to read on this subject:
Coveted Cavities (even dead trees perform a service)
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