By JOYCE COMINGORE
Special to The Breeze
"Arbor Day - A Celebration of Stewardship" is an instructional unit in the curriculum kit for teaching the middle grades the importance of trees and environmental stewardship. National Arbor Day is observed the last Friday in April, but every state has adopted the dates best suited to planting native trees in their state. The Florida Legislature, in 1945, chose the third Friday in January. Next Friday is Florida's Arbor Day.
Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton, when he and his wife moved to a barren, treeless state, Nebraska, in 1854. He became the editor of Nebraska's first newspaper. A forum he used to rally the Nebraska natives in 1872 to a "plant a tree day," stressed that trees were needed 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. More than a million trees were planted that day and Nebraska was treeless no more. It was proclaimed a legal holiday in 1875, observed on his birthday, April 22.
In 1883, Arbor Day became a part of the school system because they wanted to make our future, our children, aware of our need for trees, so they could become "Stewards of the Land." He served as national Secretary of Agriculture in President Cleveland's second term, 1893 to 1897. In 1970, President Nixon proclaimed Arbor Day as the fourth Friday in April.
Arbor Day is now celebrated worldwide. Morton was proud of the success of Arbor Day, stating, "Other holidays repose upon the past. Arbor Day proposes for the future."
Arbor Day and trees are very dear to my heart, which is why I enjoy serving as Garden Council's Arbor Day Chairman. This year we are planting a coconut palm tree at the historic Edison/Ford Estates to honor our past presidents at 11 am. Morton stated, "let us endeavor then by our words on 'Arbor Day'-and all other opportune occasions-to so embellish the world with plant life, trees, flowers and foliage, as to make our earth homes approximate to those which the prophets, poets and seers of all ages have portrayed as the Home in Heaven." He thought trees were a much better monument to a person or events than a marble memorial.
Morton also stated, "There is no aristocracy in trees. They are not haughty. They will thrive near the humblest cabin just as well as they will in the shadow of a king's palace. There is a true triumph in the unswerving integrity and genuine democracy of trees."
Trees are so very essential to our well being. Trees are natural filters of air and ground water. Oxygen and water, the essence of our well being. Trees remove carbon dioxide and pollutants from our environment. A single tree can absorb 26 pounds of carbon dioxide, one of our greenhouse gases contributing to climate change per year.
Plus, one mature tree in one year provides the same amount of oxygen, about 13 pounds, as is consumed by four people in one year. In goes the good air (breathe in), we exhale (out goes the bad air). I read where a well developed canopy was likened to a dust mop, intercepting up to 50 pounds of dust, ash and pollen particles a year. And then, not only do tree roots filter out the pollutants in our ground water, to fill our wells with healthy water, recharging our aquifers, these roots help hold the soil in place to prevent erosion. They assist in run-off and storm water control.
Next, we need food. Some trees provide us with fruits and nuts, sustenance for our bodies. They provide shelter and food for the birds and animals we carnivores appreciate. In addition to sustaining our lives, they provide esthetic appeal to our properties. Landscapes enhanced by trees are more inviting to see and to live with, in our streets, parks, homes, giving us a calming peace. They are great for resale values, adding 5 to 20 percent value. But, if we want to live in these homes, trees can help reduce cooling and heating bills. In the latest Florida Gardening magazine, Decem-ber/January, Rebecca Jordi, Nassau County Extension Director, wrote an article, "Trees Are Natural Air Conditioners." She urged us to celebrate Arbor Day and plant these natural air conditioners.
Industrially, they provide the wood to build our homes, furniture, fences, and processed, they provide paper and many more products. When they are not replaced, which happens too many times, we suffer a great environmental loss. We truly need a nation of "Stewards of the Land."
The National Arbor Day Foundation, beginning in 1971, is located in Nebraska City, Neb. It operates the Arbor Day Farms and the Arbor Lodge State Park located in the donated homestead of the Morton family. You can join the foundation for $10 a year membership, and receive 10 free 6 to 12-inch trees with information on planting them. Members also receive a subscription to the foundation's colorful bimonthly publication and their "Tree Book." The choices for our area are - 10 live oaks or 10 bald cypress, or 5 crapemyrtles. You can order on line by going to arborday.org.
Planting a tree is planting hope, an act of optimism, kindness, a labor of love and a commitment to stewardship. So this Friday, if you can't plant a tree, plant a seedling, if you can't, just plant a seed, and thank a tree.
Joyce Comingore is a master gardener, board member of the American Hibiscus Society and the FortMyers/Lee County Garden Council, District IX Tree Chairman and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.