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Florida’s Arbor Day is next Friday

January 15, 2011
By JOYCE COMINGORE, Garden Club of Cape Coral

By Joyce Comingore

Twentyfour little hours. "What A Difference A Day Makes," is a song we love to hum, but Arbor Day is one holiday that really makes a big difference. It's the only holiday that looks forward and plans for the future. A holiday of hope and faith.

This next Friday is Arbor Day for Florida. The national Arbor Day is the last Friday of April, but each state has chosen its own date, and ours is the third Friday of January as passed by our state Legislature in 1945.

Once upon a time (in 1854), there was a vast plain in the middle of the United States called "The Nebraska Territory." Into this wide expanse of openness moved Julius Sterling Morton and his wife from Detroit. They set about planting their beloved trees, orchards, shrubs, and flowers. He became the editor of Nebraska's first newspaper, enthusiastically promoting trees and agriculture. Nebraska joined the union on March 1, 1867, as our 37th State. In 1872, he went before the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture, proposing the idea that everyone plant a tree, stressing trees were needed as windbreakers, to keep the soil in place, for fuel, building materials and shade. The lack of trees was an obstacle to the settlement of Nebraska's rich farmland.

April 10, 1872, became a tree planting day. His newspaper kept it before its readers. More than a million trees were planted that day, and Nebraska was a wilderness no more. In 1874, Nebraska's governor proclaimed it a legal holiday officially starting in 1875.

In 1885, Morton's birthday , April 22, was designated as Arbor Day, a legal holiday, nationally. Under President Cleveland's second term, 1893 to 1897, Morton became the secretary agriculture for the United States of America. President Nixon, in 1970, proclaimed Arbor Day the last Friday in April.

As Arbor Day chairman for the Fort Myers/Lee County Garden Council, I created a bit of controversy last year because we wanted to plant a palm tree City of Palms, right? I was informed that palms are monocots and therefore, tall grass, not trees. Struggling through the process of our state tree being the cabbage or sabal palm which is also the state tree of South Carolina, I realized that Cape Coral's code for landscaping a lot, calls for two trees or one tree and three palms, giving me the confidence to move forward and plant a quad Veitchia Merrillii, (Christmas, Manilla, or Adonidia palm). One more than Cape Coral requires. This year I am not facing this quandary again. I consulted with John Sibley of the All Native Garden Center and the Native Plant Society to find a suitable native tree. We decided on the endangered and rare native Bahama strongbark or Bahama strongback.

Bourreria ovata is a member of the borage family and listed as endangered by the state of Florida. Growing in the 10 and 11 zones in full sun to partial shade, it is drought, poor soil and salt tolerant. A slow grower that can reach an eventual height of 20 feet, with a shrubby, cascading growth habit, it has clusters of white, highly fragrant blossoms all year long, peaking in the summer-fall. These clusters give way in late September to October, to drupes of bright orange-red berries that birds dearly love. Bees and butterflies are attracted to the nectar of the sweet smelling flowers.

I read that "Strongbark can become as busy as the coffee shop at the bus station when groups of pollinators come into town." This tree is considered to be a sacred tree in Guatemala. In pre-deodorant days, Aztec princesses bathed in the water perfumed with the white flowers.

Geiger trees, strongback and fiddlewood represent some of the families of the Lamiales order. Native to the Keys and the West Indies, it has few pests or diseases. The Irish naturalist, Patrick Browne(1720-1790), immigrated to Jamaica and named the genus after a friend's friend, a 16th Century pharmacist in Nurenburg, Germany, Johann Ambrosius Beurer.

Beurer had helped a German botanical illustrator, Georg Dionys Ehret, launch his career by introducing him to a well-known German botanist. Later, Ehret was asked to illustrate Patrick Browne's "Civil and Natural history of Jamaica," which appeared in 1756. During their working together, Ehret must have told Browne of the early assistance Beurer had given him. Browne, probably misunderstood Beuer's name and announced he had founded the genus Bourreria in honor of Bourer. The name went through several revisions, but was finally upheld by the International Botanical Congress in 1935, and is still used today.

Researching all this, John and I felt we needed a Bahama strongbark tree in our botanical garden, so we met this week to figure out where to plant it. Low and behold! We found one already planted there. Those in charge of the garden decided we couldn't have too many Bahama strongbacks, so this next Friday, council members will be planting another Bourreria ovata, strongback, at 1 p.m.

Planting a tree is planting hope. Planting a tree is an act of optimism, kindness, a labor of love and a commitment to stewardship.

You know how I feel about trees. Ocoee, Fla., is planning a "Hug a Tree Day" on Jan. 21. I'm just asking you to remember to, maybe plant a tree and thank a tree.

Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, national director of the American Hibiscus Society and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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