Mother Nature Needs Our Help – Let’s Plant Trees

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Imagine if you could do something simple to beautify your community and help keep Earth habitable. Planting a tree is one way to do it.

If you have access to a shovel or even a garden trowel, you can plant a tree seedling in your yard or somewhere else, that needs a tree like a park, community open space, or a forest. You can obtain a tree seedling from a nursery, botanical garden or native plant sale, or a nonprofit organization that grows trees.

Mother Nature does a lot of tree planting ably aided by the wind, rain, and critters, both feathered and furry. However, she would probably appreciate some assistance from us, humans. Mother Nature is unlikely to come knocking on your door asking you to plant trees, but I think she is wily and employs a variety of methods to get the word out. If you are not listening, she may give you a nudge or two. That is what happened to me.

Cambria in the Pines

Before moving to live among Monterey pine trees in the small town of Cambria on the California Central Coast, I had never lived this close to the rest of nature. Our town motto is “Cambria in the Pines.”

My spouse and I share a tiny piece of land with Monterey pine and oak trees, native plants, mule deer, wild turkeys, voles, lizards, and a wide variety of birds. I am acquainted with each tree in our mostly wild yard. Whenever a tree dies, I feel bereft. Then I will notice a new tree seedling in our yard and feel hope.

Our Monterey pine forest is one of the few remaining native stands of Monterey pine trees in the world. It is precious, irreplaceable, and struggling to survive. Drought, rising temperatures, and disease have taken a toll on the forest. Thousands of trees have been lost. Mother Nature and people have planted new tree seedlings, but not enough, not nearly enough. We are in danger of becoming “Cambria in the Pine.”

Over the years, to supplement Mother Nature’s efforts, I have attempted to buy Monterey pine seedlings at our local nursery, but they never have any in stock (I think this is weird). I admit that I did not look elsewhere for seedlings. Perhaps Mother Nature sensed that I needed a nudge to propel me to action so she gave me not one but two gentle nudges.

We Meet a Tree Hugger

Near the end of December, I saw a notice in the local newspaper The Cambrian that the Cambria Forest Committee was hosting a talk by a guy named Rick Hawley from Greenspace, a local nonprofit land trust. The subject was Monterey pine trees. I was interested but what really caught my attention was a sentence that said Greenspace grows Monterey pine seedlings for sale to the public. I thought, “You are kidding me. Why do I not know about this?”

A week or so later, on a cold evening in January, my spouse and I bundled up and walked down to the community room at the Rabobank to hear Rick speak and to find out how we could obtain some tree seedlings.

Rack Holding Tiny Monterey Pine Seedlings at Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019
A rack holding tiny Monterey pine seedlings at the Cambria Forest Committee meeting – January 9, 2019. This photo and the one below courtesy of the Cambria Forest Committee.

As soon as we entered the room, I saw a rack of tiny Monterey pine seedlings nestled in little plastic sleeves sitting on a table. I coveted them.

Rick gave an impassioned talk about Monterey pine trees and discussed the importance of replacing trees that have been lost due to drought, disease, or age. Planting trees helps forests stay healthy and resilient.

One thing I discovered during the meeting is that I am not quite the law-abiding citizen that I thought I was. Apparently, you are supposed to obtain a permit before removing a tree over a certain size (including dead trees) and are required to plant replacement tree seedlings.

You know assuming is dangerous, right? Well, I had assumed that the tree service we hired from time to time to remove our dead trees had a permit or something so we did not need one. I did know about replacement tree requirements but fortunately, we have had more than enough tree seedlings volunteer in our yard to replace the dead trees (whew). Okay, now I know.

Rick Hawley and Linda Poppenheimer Talking after the Cambria Forest Committee Meeting on January 9, 2019

At the close of the meeting, I approached Rick to thank him for his inspiring talk and to volunteer to grow seedlings. When I asked him where I could obtain seedlings to plant in our yard, he gave me his business card and told me to call to make arrangements.

Mother Nature Throws down the Gauntlet

Two weeks later, Rick’s business card was still sitting on my desk.

Then, one day my spouse walked into our home office and said, “A Monterey pine tree just threw a seed at me.” This had occurred outside of our kitchen when a pinecone made a loud cracking noise as it burst open and then a single papery-winged seed drifted down onto the deck. I had never seen a Monterey pine seed.

I took this as a sign from Mother Nature.

After locating Rick’s card, I called and left a message that I was interested in buying some Monterey pine seedlings.

We are still in the rainy season so I thought the seedlings would have a good chance of settling in before the dry summer and fall months. I figured I could probably keep track of and care for twenty seedlings. This means keeping the wild grasses from overrunning them and carrying water to their locations if needed.

Rick called back and said he would bring the seedlings to the Greenspace office for me to pick up.

When I arrived at the office, Rick introduced me to Mary Webb, the current president of the board of directors. The three of us had a delightful conversation about Greenspace and Monterey pine trees. Greenspace began as a land trust in 1988 and has been instrumental in preserving natural areas, restoring the Santa Rosa Creek watershed, caring for the Monterey pine forest, leading educational forest excursions for middle school students, and advocating for local environmental issues.

Mary Webb and Rick Hawley Holding Greenspace 2001 Arbor Day Foundation Award and Two Monterey Pine Seedlings
Mary Webb and Rick Hawley standing outside the Greenspace office in Cambria, CA holding Greenspace’s 2001 Arbor Day Foundation award and two Monterey pine seedlings that would soon find a home in my yard – January 24, 2019.

Greenspace sells Monterey pine seedlings in one-gallon pots for $10 each. I think this is a good deal. If everyone in town invested just $10 for one tree seedling for their own yard or for a community open space, we could plant about 6,000 trees.

Planting Monterey Pine Tree Seedlings

When I got home, my spouse helped me unload the seedlings from my car and we lined them up on the edge of the driveway so I could take a group photo before we dispersed the trees to their planting locations (top phot0).

We decided to plant the seedlings that weekend before the next rainstorm.

Linda Poppenheimer Holding a Monterey Pine Seedling with Shovel, Bucket, and Watering Can
This is me decked out in a California Native Plant Society t-shirt, jeans, boots, gloves, and a hat ready to plant some Monterey pine seedlings.

In addition to typical tree planting concerns like not planting too close to the house and avoiding locations beneath power lines, we also needed to consider deer trails and vole highways. Deer cruising through the yard could easily crush a 12” seedling and voles tunneling underground dig up anything in their path and toss it aside.

We decided to plant the seedlings in groups spaced far enough apart so that they can grow into mature trees but close enough that they would have buddies nearby. In some cases, we planted the seedlings near decaying tree stumps in hopes that this will protect them from trampling by deer or even wild turkeys.

One thing I realized almost immediately is that I will need to put some kind of marker near the tree groupings because as soon as the grasses grow to more than a foot tall, it will be hard for me to locate them so I can check on their progress. In the past week, we have had several inches of rain and the tree seedlings seem happy, so far so good.

I am looking forward to Rick’s class on propagating Monterey pine seedlings from seeds. I have a spot picked out next to my pots of native plant seeds.

You Can Plant Trees, Too

Planting trees is an act of love towards people and the planet.

Even though it is winter, there are many places where planting trees now make sense. If you live in one of these milder climates, please consider taking action by planting a tree seedling or several seedlings. If you are hunkering down in a cold and snowy place, perhaps you could select the type of tree you would like to plant in the spring and put a photo of it on your refrigerator.

If you do not have a yard or do not want to plant a tree in your yard that is okay, there are plenty of other places that need trees such as playgrounds, parks, common areas, city streets, community open spaces, and forests. Find a tree planting opportunity in your area and go plant some trees.

You can still help even if you are not able to plant a tree or do not want to do it. Consider making a financial donation to a tree related nonprofit, offer to help organize a tree-planting event, or volunteer to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies for the people planting trees.

Fortunately, you do not need to wait for Mother Nature to toss a seed at you to get your attention. If you are reading this, she already has your attention so go plant a tree.

Featured Image at Top: Twenty Monterey pine tree seedlings in pots lined up on the curb of our driveway awaiting planting.

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The Hidden Life of Trees – Book Review

You will discover wonders great and small in a forest.

Surely, a book entitled The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate would draw the interest of anyone who admires trees.

Trees have always fascinated me. I was a tree hugger (literally) long before I became an environmentalist. I observe trees and wonder about things like what it is like to live in the same spot for hundreds of years or to have another tree fall on you during a storm and stay there.

I came across The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben while browsing the Volumes of Pleasure book table during a break at the Central Coast Bioneers conference last November. The title was intriguing. After flipping to the table of contents and scanning the names of the chapters, I smiled and bought the book.

Book Review

Reading The Hidden Life of Trees will give you an opportunity to get to know trees and forests up close and personal. Wohlleben delivers his observations comingled with science facts in easy to read chunks of 12 pages or less over the course of 36 chapters.

Prepare yourself to be entertained and informed, maybe even amazed by some of the things you will read about in this book. I was.

The Hidden Life of Trees Book Cover

For instance, do you know that when a predator starts nibbling on its leaves some trees will begin pumping toxins into their leaves to discourage the nibbler? In addition, the tree under assault will release a scent to warn nearby trees of the danger so they, too, can pump toxins into their own leaves.

Are you aware that fungal networks connect trees to other trees allowing them to share nutrients and information or that they perform other services like filtering out heavy metals in the soil and protecting trees against bacterial attacks? In return, the fungi receive food from the trees in the form of sugar and carbohydrates.

Have you ever considered the challenges facing trees planted in parks and next to streets? These trees are not only separated from their family members, their roots must navigate around concrete, pipes, and other obstructions, and they are constantly in danger of having their limbs cut off.

Wohlleben reinforces the interconnectedness of nature and the importance of biodiversity throughout the book and gives a realistic view of what actually occurs in a forest.

“The forest ecosystem is held in a delicate balance. Every being has its niche and its function, which contribute to the well-being of all. Nature is often described like that, or something along those lines; however, that is, unfortunately, false.”

Did you see that coming?

“For out there under the trees, the law of the jungle rules. Every species wants to survive, and each takes from the others what it needs. All are basically ruthless, and the only reason everything doesn’t collapse is because there are safeguards against those who demand more than their due. And one final limitation is an organism’s own genetics: an organism that is too greedy and takes too much without giving anything in return destroys what it needs for life and dies out.”

Hmm, perhaps humans could learn a thing or two from trees.

The Bottom Line

Peter Wohlleben is a German forester who has written several books about trees. To my knowledge, The Hidden Life of Trees is the first one translated into English making it accessible to millions of people who cannot read in German, including me.

Wohlleben writes in a lyrical and engaging way. As you are reading the book, you can imagine yourself strolling with him through the forest conversing about tree parents and their children or sitting on a tree stump talking about how trees act as carbon dioxide vacuums.

One thing that you will notice as you are reading The Hidden Life of Trees is that Wohlleben writes about trees as beings with thoughts and feelings. Attributing human characteristics to non-humans is called anthropomorphism. A familiar example is treating your pet like a family member.

Apparently, some people believe that anthropomorphizing plants and animals detracts from science or maybe they just think it is silly. To me, that is a shortsighted view.

I believe that Wohlleben’s use of anthropomorphic terms to describe trees and other forest denizens probably contributed to the book becoming a best seller. By writing a book that is easy for people to relate to and fun to read, he has made learning about trees and forests appealing to a wide audience.

Perhaps after being introduced to trees in The Hidden Life of Trees, you and other readers will be inclined to do some further reading or research about trees, get to know trees in your own community, or take action to protect an old growth forest at risk of destruction. Regardless, you will come away having gained knowledge and at least one interesting tidbit to share with your friends.

Reading The Hidden Life of Trees is a delightful and informative experience you do not want to miss.

Featured Image at Top: Beech Tree Forest Canopy in Germany during the Summer – Photo Credit Shutterstock/ Alexandra Theile

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