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Diggin' It

Thoughts about trees for Arbor Day and all year-round

As national Arbor Day approaches, it's time to think about trees -- planting them for future generations, teaching kids about them, and learning how to estimate the age of a large tree.

By Denise Schreiber / April 11, 2011

A large cedar tree is among many large, old, and rare trees at Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.

Courtesy of Denise Schreiber

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A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Greek Proverb

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Americans have a love affair with trees. I’m not talking about just planting them, I’m talking about how we treasure our trees, especially the old ones that mark that spot in time, that place in history that makes it seem so alive for us.

Historic trees

There are the beautiful beeches with their elephant’s foot-like trunk carved with the initials of lovers from long ago. Trees that have stood watch over events in our history include Thomas Jefferson’s tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) outside his bedroom window at Monticello, the 320+ year-old London plane tree (Platanus occidentalis) overlooking Brandywine (Pa.) Battlefield, descendants of Johnny Appleseed trees that live on, the swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) that witnessed the bloodiest battle of the Civil War at Gettysburg, and the Survivor Tree in Oklahoma City.

The Survivor Tree is an American elm (Ulmus americana), one of our more majestic trees. I visited Oklahoma City a few months after the bombing, stunned by the destruction and yet the tree was still standing: scarred, with branches missing, but pushing out new growth as if it were saying, “I stand here to remember those lost.”

Last year I had occasion to visit the memorial area again, and the tree is still going strong, a monument to its strength and ours.

Arbor Day activities

As national Arbor Day (April 29 this year) approaches, there are events scheduled all over the country to commemorate the day, mostly with tree plantings. You don’t have to participate in an event to plant a tree, just simply buy one that will be suitable for your property. Small lot = small tree. Acreage = large tree.

Plant a tree for your children to hide under or climb. At our first home, we planted a sapling that was the descendant of a tree that my grandfather Rosario Scalise planted when he came to Pittsburgh from Italy in the late 1800s.

The sapling grew into the perfect climbing tree that my daughter Regan started to climb when she was just 3 [see second photo above; click on arrow at right base of first photo]. Many a summer day was spent in that tree, hiding among the leaves. Unfortunately it succumbed to disease and had to be removed. Even though my daughter was getting too big to climb it, she fought and cried with us to leave it alone in case it came back to life.

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