Relationship between trees and neighborhood affluence offers important lessons for local leaders

A U.S. Forest Service survey of the San Francisco Bay Area found that neighborhoods with robust communities trees are usually more economically prosperous than areas lacking in trees.

Trees are scant in lower-income West Oakland and plentiful in affluent Piedmont just four miles away, according to the San Jose Mercury News. A similar contrast is evident when comparing Palo Alto to East Palo Alto in the South Bay.

“If you have a tree-lined street, people are more likely to shop there,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “If you have a tree-lined street, property values go up. … The more trees we have, the cleaner the air.”

Tidwell, a good friend of the Foundation, was in the Bay Area in person last month to announce a grant worth $181,000 for the locally-based Urban Releaf, which has planted more than 10,000 trees in Oakland and Richmond and recruits young people to help.

The Mercury-News also cites the work of environmental writer Tim De Chant, whose use of satellite images present a stark portrait of what he calls “Income equality, as seen from space.”

Of course, planting trees is just the beginning. In order to survive, urban trees require continued maintenance and care, an area where resource-starved cities often fall short. This is a question of long-term priorities and investment that local decision-makers across the country must face. San Francisco’s decision to shift the responsibility for tree care to property owners is an example of a troubling step in the wrong direction, one which we hope will be halted as the economy continues to recover and municipalities reclaim some of their lost revenue base.

Image: USDA via Bay Area News Group

Volunteers and local workers make a difference as drought threatens Joplin’s newly planted trees

Every year, natural disasters strike communities often resulting in a dramatic loss of trees that subsequently weakens the community’s environmental sustainability, economy, and sense of place.

Photo Credit:

The Arbor Day Foundation’s Disaster Recovery Campaign is a structured response to the destruction caused by disasters in communities across the nation.   By collaborating and organizing with key state and local partners, the Arbor Day Foundation “facilitates the distribution of trees to citizens in communities in need.”

After the severe damage caused by the EF5 tornado that tore through Joplin in May 2011, a variety of organizations banded together to plant nearly 7,000 new trees in the devastated city.

Through a joint initiative with the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, the Arbor Day Foundation developed the Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign.  This campaign distributed 12,000 trees to residents in four Joplin-area locations.

Foundation officials have described the Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign as an effort to restore Joplin’s precious and beautiful tree canopy to what it was before the May tornado.

An NPR news article details that, “sturdy varieties such as oak, sycamore and redbud — trees that can withstand strong winds when they’re taller” have been planted throughout Joplin.

In spite of all the progress made through the combined efforts of local and national supporters, Joplin’s young, newly planted trees are now struggling to survive a different environmental threat: drought.

Tom Meyer, manager of Carson Nurseries in Springfield, explains that young “trees are especially vulnerable to the drought.”

According to Meyer:

Freshly planted trees are real reliant on human beings taking care of them.  They need to water right at the root base, and there’s very little root structure beyond what was just planted. They can’t bring in residual water from farther out.

Fortunately, students on mission trips, volunteers and other workers from around the Joplin area have formed “bucket brigades,” toting heavy, five gallon buckets of water in the searing heat to around 562 young trees planted in Joplin parks.

Photo Credit: Joplin Globe

Thanks to these efforts and the perseverance and dedication to the restoration of Joplin, Ric Mayer, Joplin’s tree coordinator, estimates that presently, less than three percent of the newly planted trees will not survive.

The battle for the trees’ survival is not yet over.  Mayer believes that if the volunteers keep at it, there is hope for saving most of the trees in Joplin parks, but volunteers tend to be in short supply through August and September.

Any volunteers who want to water the trees in Joplin’s parks are welcome.  Homeowners are advised to not neglect their newly planted trees as well.

If you would like to donate to the Arbor Day Foundation’s Joplin Tree Recovery Campaign and help Joplin in its efforts to restore and maintain its tree canopy, please click here.

The following “before and after” photos portray the destruction caused by the May 2011 EF5 tornado that went through Joplin.

Photo Credit: Daily Mail

Christian Science Monitor surveys benefits of shade trees

The Christian Science Monitor’s “The Simple Dollar” blog this week touts the value shade trees can bring to both the wallet and the quality of a neighborhood.

Contributor Trent Hamm notes the difference he observed between the “slow-growing” tree in part of his house and “beautiful shade tree” in his neighbors yard that provides countless benefits just twelve years after being planted. Noting the shade from his neighbor’s tree makes gardening easier in his own yard, Hamm added:

For them, it’s even better. For a good portion of the morning, the tree provides shade to the back of their house. It keeps the hot rays of the morning sun from going in their windows, enabling them to throw open those windows for fresh air without worrying about the heat of the sun and keeping them from running their air conditioning until a bit later in the day than they otherwise would.

He goes to discuss many of the benefits of trees we talk about all of the time here the Foundation: lower energy bills, higher property values and chance to literally watch your own investment grow into something great. He also adds the important caveats about planting the right tree in the right place, and doing one’s homework prior to digging.

The whole piece is available here.

Arbor Day Foundation joins four partners in Missouri River cottonwood planting

Cottonwood trees are returning to the bank of the Missouri River.

Last week, a group of Nebraska City employees of the Arbor Day Foundation joined Nature Conservancy staff to plant 1,500 cottonwood seedlings along the river in southeast Nebraska, just north of Nebraska City. The two organizations are aided by the U.S. Forest Service and Nebraska Forest Service.

Lincoln-based Foundation employees participated in a similar planting earlier in the year.

Tyler Janke of the Nature Conservancy says cottonwoods were chosen because they are “tough” and grow quickly, even in the face of flooding.

“In a sense, cottonwoods are a pioneer species,” he said.

Cottonwoods are so resilient that they “essentially create their own microclimate,” Janke continued, “and they represent the beginnings of the forest community.”

And that’s exactly what we’re looking for – a chance to reforest and renew the ecosystem along the Missouri River, both in Nebraska and further downstream if we can. The new cottonwoods will make the area more sustainable and better able to withstand future flooding.

You can see the planting for yourself in this short video. Credit is due to Amy Stouffer, web content manager and e-communication specialist with the Foundation in Nebraska City, for preparing the footage and photographs.

North Dakota celebrates International Peace Garden, Vermont replants trees lost in Hurricane Irene

North Dakota

Nicknamed the “Peace Garden State” for being home to the International Peace Garden (a 2,339 acre Botanical Garden straddling the international Boundary between North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba), the State of North Dakota honors Arbor Day today, the first Friday in May.

Photo Credit: Sterling News

The City of Fargo will honor Arbor Day with a tree planting by local elementary students and volunteers. The locations for the celebrations vary and include school grounds, parks city streets, bike trails and hiking areas. Bismarck will recognize Arbor Day by dedicating ceremonial Arbor Day trees to local citizens whose efforts have made a significant contribution to Bismarck’s urban forest.

According to the North Dakota Forest Service, the 2012 State Arbor Day Celebration will also honor the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts by planting a “Girl Scout Grove” at the International Peace Garden. Opened in 1932, the International Peace Garden claims to be the longest unguarded border in the world. This event offers the North Dakota Forest Service an opportunity to recognize the Girl Scouts for their many years of hands-on tree planting accomplishments.

It is fitting for the Girls Scouts to celebrate their centennial at the International Peace Garden since they were involved in its dedication in 1932.

You can find more information about the Girl Scouts Centennial, here.

Arbor Day Foundation members have helped plant more than 33,662 trees across the state last year. The State of North Dakota is currently home to 46 Tree City USA communities. The largest Tree City USA in North Dakota is Fargo, population 99,200; the smallest is Pekin, population 80.


During the fall, Vermont’s trees attract tourists from all over the United States who come to see the brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange foliage. Known as the “Green Mountain State” for its green, forest-covered mountains, Vermont also recognizes Arbor Day today.

Photo Credit: PRWeb

The Vermont Division of Forestry offers a variety of activities for Arbor Day 2012. Vermont students (grades 1-8th) can engage in learning about trees through the “Growing Works of Art” contest. This competition is meant to enrich students’ knowledge about Vermont’s trees and provide students with an opportunity to author what will become a set of trading cards to be collected by students across the state.  You can learn more about the Growing Works of Art contest, here.

Vermont also hosts a unique activity called the “Arbor Day Passport.”  Students (grades K-8th) complete a certain number of workbook projects to receive prizes such as a set of Tree Trading Cards or a Vermont State Parks day use pass. Learn more here.

Over the past year, Hurricane Irene caused some of the worst flooding Vermont had seen in 83 years. As a result of the tropical storm, many trees were blown down or damaged and had to be trimmed or taken down. Vermont was the first state to designate a day to clean up the entire state known as, “Green Up Day.”

This year, The State Irene Recovery Office has partnered with Green Up Vermont to incorporate Irene recovery activities into Green Up Day, creating the Green Up to Recover initiative. If you’re interested in being involved with the tree-planting or other environmental volunteer opportunities associated with Green Up Day, you can find more information here.

Arbor Day Foundation members have helped plant more than 65,715 trees across the state last year.  The State of Vermont is currently home to 8 Tree City USA communities. The largest Tree City USA in Vermont is Burlington, population 39,348; the smallest is Peacham, population 668.


PBS NewsHour highlights challenge of warming winters for tree planting

The new release of hardiness zone maps from the USDA has certainly piqued the interest of the adventurous gardener. As USDA data shows – and the Arbor Day Foundation similarly corroborated in 2006 – the uptick in lowest minimum winter temperatures in much of the country has shifted the landscape.

Many of these changes are highlighted in a new blog post from the PBS Newshour.

Chihuahuan desert plants are expected in rural New Mexico, for instance, but now they’re making an appearance in the more-elevated Santa Fe, writes Rebecca Jacobson. And wine-makers in Virginia are happily experimenting with new crops.

There is another side to the coin, however. Warmer winters also mean pests that used to be killed off by the cold survive into spring.

In Ohio, fungi are latching onto the Colorado blue spruce tree (above) for longer periods. Virginia, while ripe for experimentation, has seen bacterial infections choking grapes. Beetles and other insects are also thriving in the warmer weather, destroying crops and trees, writes Jacobson.

How are we to assess these zone changes? That depends a lot on where you’re standing, or where you tend your backyard. But like any change in the climate, it comes with myriad consequences, some of which we may not notice right away.

You can read more about the new USDA maps here, and check out our online nursery here.

New hardiness zone maps reflect rising temperatures, and trees are part of the solution

For years, Arbor Day Foundation members have told us the climate conditions for tree planting were changing. According to last week’s release of new plant hardiness zones from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they’re right.

A hardiness zone documents the average lowest winter temperature in a given region. This is key information for growing, as it determines what level of cold-related stress a tree can handle.

The official map was long overdue for an overhaul. Those who had relied on the USDA’s 1990 map found it to be severely out of date, prompting the Arbor Day Foundation to produce its own map in 2006 to more accurately reflect conditions in backyards and neighborhoods across the country.

The shift, for most of the country, is palpable. A comparison between the USDA’s 1990 map and the Arbor Day Foundation’s 2006 map reveals large swaths of the country moving up a zone (see below) The new 2012 USDA map broadly resembles what the Arbor Day Foundation map indicated back in 2006.

Here in Nebraska, most of the state used to be in Zone 4 but is now in Zone 5, signifying a shift in the interval of coldest average temperature from between -30 and -20 to between -20 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Zone 11 used to be limited to Hawaii, but now can be found in parts of Southern California and Florida.

While a shift by one zone doesn’t always have a huge impact on what can grow, it definitely matters at the margins. For instance, the Yoshino Flowering Cherry Tree, a favorite in Washington, DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival, is recommended for hardiness zones 5 through 8. Colder areas like New England and the upper Midwest that shifted from Zone 4 to Zone 5 can now conceivably plant Yoshinos in their backyards. (You can also purchase your own cherry tree – and cast your vote for America’s Favorite Cherry Tree).

Another example: The Southern Magnolia thrives in Zones 6 through 10. Twenty years, it could not have grown in most of Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, but now it can be considered by an adventurous tree planter in his or her yard. Or, take the Arizona Cypress, a zone 7 through 9. Now it is now a viable choice in much of New Mexico and Texas.

The warming indicated by the new map has inevitably renewed discussion about climate change. This is a worthy topic, especially as trees are acknowledged as part of the solution.

When we plant trees in our yard, they immediately go to work for us. The shade provided by trees during hot summer days not only makes life more comfortable, it also reduces the energy consumed through air conditioning by as much as 40 percent. In winter time, well-placed trees can block bitter winds, resulting in reduced energy use from heating. And, a parking lot with 50 percent shading can eliminate one ton of emissions per day, while extending the life of the pavement.

When households demand less energy, we save precious resources and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change because utility companies save energy during periods of peak demand. When mature trees absorb carbon dioxide in urban areas, harmful pollutants are removed from the atmosphere and are naturally regenerated.

Many Americans are excited to explore new species of tree previously untenable in their region. Purchasing and planting trees is also a low-tech and low-cost way to mitigate an enormous environmental challenge.

You can check out the USDA’s updated map, or visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s online nursery and simply enter your zip code to see what trees are a good fit for your area.


If you should ever find yourself luxuriating in the French Riviera, and in the unlikely event you grow tired of the sand and sea, a walk in the hills will introduce you to the unique woodlands of the Mediterranean.   There, among the scrubby oaks and umbrella pines you will find a familiar bush or small tree, the European smoketree – in its native environment.

There are only two species of trees in the genus Cotinus.  One is the American smoketree, the other is its close relative from Europe.  For both, their claim to fame is the wispy clumps of filaments that look all the world like smoke.  The mirage has given rise to other names such as mist tree, cloud tree, wig tree, and Jupiter’s beard.  By whatever name, the site of this tree is what Minnesota garden writer Don Engebretson has called “one of the most arresting shrubs available to…gardeners today.”
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Dogwood: Beautiful Tree With Many Uses

Writer-naturalist Donald Peattie once wrote, “Lovely as it is, dogwood stoops also to be useful.”

What’s in a Name?

For all the beauty of this tree, the common name of dogwood may come from something less lovely – “dagger.”  This, in turn, may actually come from its early use as a skewer, or thin piece of wood used to hold meat together.  The tendency of its wood to not splinter made it popular for this purpose.

The scientific genus name, Cornus, derives from the Latin, cornu, or horn, in reference to another use of its hard wood.  The species name, florida, is also from Latin, flos, meaning flowery. 

Seasonal Color

The blossoms of dogwood add a welcome touch of color in early spring.  If space allows, the white can be accentuated with a background of conifers.  Bright autumn foliage and red berries that linger into winter add a bold stroke of color to any landscape design. Read more…

How to Beat the Summer Heat with Trees

Trees properly placed around a house can save you money and help cool your house in the summer.  This is according to the U.S. Forest Service Center for Urban Forest Research, but the concept is easy for everyone to understand.  Go outside sometime this summer and stand in the sun for a few minutes.  Then walk over to your nearest tree and stand in the shade.  I bet you will notice that the shade the tree provides is much cooler than standing in full sun.  This same concept can be replicated by planting trees in the right places to cast shadows on your house during different times of the day.  Find out where to plant around your house and what trees are best. 

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