Imagine that you’re a honey bee (Apis spp.) that has left your hive in search of nectar. After a short flight, you have found it: a beautiful sage flower, full of sweet nectar. You zero in on your flower. A deep buzz comes from your right. You see a black object twice your size fly right by and land on the flower you had set your simple-heart-tube on. That object was your distant cousin, a female Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) and your cousin is very important to the pollination of native plants.
What’s the first thing you think of when I say Humboldt? If you’re from California you could be thinking of the county, college, bay, fort, state park or wildlife refuge. If you’re from Nevada you might think of the river, the national forest, wildlife area, sink, saltmarsh, lake, mountain ranges, county or creepy ghost town. Dewy-Humboldt in Arizona, Humboldt Illinois, Humboldt Kansas, Humboldt Iowa, Humboldt Ohio, Humboldt Wisconsin, Humboldt Saskatchewan, it’s hard to escape Humboldt. Humboldt is everywhere. The Humboldt name graces multiple mountains and mountain ranges, forests, national parks, waterfalls, glaciers, an ocean current. and a giant sinkhole Animals and plants including, penguins, squid, bat, monkey(s), skunk, snail, an entire genus of flowering plants, legumes, endangered cactus, a beetle, river dolphins, a carnivorous plant, oak, orchid, lily and mushroom all bear his name. Humboldt is in outer space, the Mare Humboldt on the moon and two asteroids bear the name. That doesn’t even touch the organizations, institutions, monuments and other random things that are all called Humboldt.
The orchid family, Orchidaceae is enormous, containing 28,000 species. That’s just slightly more species than the population of Monterey, California. The species count does not include the 100,000 or so cultivars that have been bred by humans. California has only 31 native orchids (most of them live in the tropics). I didn’t realize that I had seen my first one.
A field of tomatoes wilts. A stand of tanoak trees dies. A forest of bay laurels and manzanita withers. An orchard of citrus yellows and decays. A wildland restoration project crumbles into dust. Potatoes turn rancid and spongy. These are the calling cards of Phytophthora, the destroyers of plants
Five feet tall, and half a foot wide, a white flower with bright gold stamens in the center, loomed over the nursery path. Since moving from Michigan four months ago, I had yet to see a plant that really blew me away.
In their natural state riparian corridors are rich in vegetation and wildlife. A presentation by the the Santa Clara Water District states that “native plants are ecologically best suited to the creek environment.” Plants and wildlife benefit from the sediment and organic material that streams transport and deposits on their banks. In this way, soil is enriched, erosion offset, and aquifers replenished. Native plants and aquatic life are adapted to seasonal variances in river flow, including annual flooding. As F. Thomas Griggs writes, “Cottonwood and willows, as well as all other riparian plant species, are directly dependent on patterns of sediment erosion and deposition.”
Our City Forest is a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating a green and healthy Silicon Valley by engaging the community in the protection, growth and maintenance of our urban ecosystem, with special focus on our urban forest.
"We might, of course, continue the historic pattern of using water policy to facilitate growth. In the long term, then, effects on the environment and on our quality of life would worsen, despite our best efforts at habitat and species protection, and despite concepts like ‘smart growth.’ Never-ending growth, whether smart or dumb, will inevitably overtake the limits of California’s water system."
We’re taking a breather on the Our City Forest blog, a breather from science and botany. It’s time for celebration. Arbor Day is tomorrow (as fellow tree nerds I’m sure you all have it marked on your calendars)! It’s a time to plant and care for trees!
In the United States, Arbor Day has been celebrated since 1872. It was the brainchild of pioneer, journalist and former Secretary of the Nebraska Territory, Julius Sterling Morton. Morton was fascinated with agriculture and trees in particular. On his estate, now the Arbor Lodge State Park, he cultivated 270 varieties of trees and shrubs including apple orchards, oaks, chestnuts and pines. Morton, using his extensive political and journalistic connections to promote Arbor Day as holiday of tree planting and care. It was a rolicking sucess, attracting thousands of participants across the young state of Nebraska, prizes were offered for the most trees planted by teams or couples. In all it is estimated that a million trees were planted on that day. The wild success of the project led to interstate and national adoption of Arbor Day as a holiday.
While Morton’s Arbor Day was the first of its kind in the United States it was not the first Arbor Day-type celebration ever held. It’s thought that the first Arbor Day celebration took place in the 1594 in the small Spanish village of Mondoñedo. The orchard of lime and chestnut trees has been continuously maintained until now. The Spanish also celebrated the first “modern” Arbor Day in 1805. In quaint, picturesque Villanueva de la Serra a local priest, Ramón Vacas Roxo, organized a village-wide tree planting festival. In the shadow of the Napoleonic Wars, the feasting and planting lasted three days. In three years the Spain would be invaded by Napoleon and the countryside torn apart in guerrilla warfare.
Both of these early Arbor Day celebrations can help us understand the purpose of planting trees. Arbor Day, unlike other holidays is not about remembering the past or a religious occasion, Arbor Day is about showing concern for the future. Trees are one of the few things that get bigger and better with age (wine and cheese notwithstanding). Trees grow for generations, providing shade, fruit, erosion control and habitat for many decades if not hundreds of years. Arbor Day, like Earth Day, is a celebration of the future, an act of hope and care in an uncertain world. In war-torn Spain the people of Villanueva continued to plant trees for the future. When Morton held his Arbor Day it was seven years after the Civil War. Over one third of eligible, Nebraskan fought for the Union. In both cases, whether under the shadow of imminent invasion or in the aftermath of war, the act of planting a tree was radically hopeful.
That hope is something we should keep in mind this Arbor Day. The environmental news might be grim. Politics might be a terrifying circus. War, terrorism, poverty and disease still cause millions of people harm. But we’re not in a Young Adult Dystopian Sci-Fi. We’re not trapped in The Sprawl. Skynet hasn’t gone active. This isn’t the Los Angeles of Bladerunner.
The world hasn’t ended.
For all our pessimistic fiction and real-world tragedy the world hasn’t ended yet. We have problems to face and fix. On Arbor Day let's engage in a radical act of hope. Let’s us all plant a tree for ourselves and for the people we hope to have follow us.
If you've enjoyed this or our other blog posts please consider donating to Our City Forest. If you agree with this post, we are having an Arbor Day Planting at Kelly Park. Everybody who volunteers with us gets a free tree from the Community Nursery. The nursery will be featuring face painting, games and other Arbor Day festivities.
Welcome back to the Our City Forest blog. If you’ve been following our posts on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or Instagram you’re probably aware that there are Big Things(TM) happening at our Community Nursery. Chief among them is the Earth Day-adjacent Spring Plant Sale this Saturday but there are other things planned, including workshops, lectures, and educational stuff for kids. In spite of the ongoing avalanche of activity at the Community Nursery, most people don’t seem to understand what it is. Legitimately, people are confused. Thankfully, you have me to ride in on a white horse with an explanation and jaunty smile. Here’s everything you need to know about the Community Nursery.