AN INDEPENDENT PROGRAM OF TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN
Arbor Day Poster Contest Presentation Series
Last week was a whirlwind week, in three days I visited three schools, ten 5th grade classes, and got to meet more than 200 students. I was giving presentations to help the students get ready for the Arbor Day Poster Contest, held by the Mass Dept. of Conservation and Recreation’s Urban and Community Forestry branch. Our mission was to drum up interest in participation so we offered our services as educators about all things trees to fifth grade classes across Worcester, looking for a few to host us for a day of learning about trees and tree diversity.
Three schools took us up on the offer and this past week I visited each of them and got to teach Worcester’s bright young minds. I was so impressed with each class as they shared their knowledge about trees and asked great questions of their own. Their curiosity was my favorite part, each new idea that I shared seemed to lead to a desire for more information, and while there were a couple times that lead us down a rabbit hole it was a wonderful way to share more about why trees are awesome.
The presentation was specifically to give them information about the theme of this year’s poster contest, Trees are Terrific… from Berkshires to Bay. This theme is based on the diversity of Massachusetts geography and therefore the diversity of our landscapes and plants. After covering some basic information about the importance of trees we walked through five big ideas about tree diversity.
The first big idea is just that there are many different kinds of trees around us, there are many different species and each species is unique in its own way. The students started by identifying what characteristics might make one tree different from another and then moved on to naming specific species of trees that they were already familiar with. This first step helped to activate their brains and help them to recognize what they already knew about tree diversity.
Big idea number two was that different kinds of trees need different things to grow. Each of those different trees that we talked about with the first idea has its own needs and each place where you could plant a tree has different things to offer. This brought us to the saying so common among urban foresters and likely unknown to the rest of humanity, you need to put the right tree in the right place. You shouldn’t put a redwood in a sidewalk strip and you should put Honeylocusts and other salt tolerant trees in parking lots.
Our third big idea was that a diverse group of trees can support a diverse population of wildlife. This tied in beautifully with the life cycle curriculum that many of the classes had learned or would be learning. We focused on how trees and other vegetation are the foundations of life, producing food and serving as habitat for other living things. In the interest of being good stewards of our planets we need to think about plant diversity.
Big idea number four took our talk right into our home city; the idea was that tree diversity keeps our urban forest healthy. We of course talked about Asian Longhorned Beetle, a problem which is still very real for us but which most of these students haven’t heard about. I showed them what the beetle looks like, explained what it does to trees, and then used pictures of the tree removals to show them the impact that one pest can have on a huge group of trees when that group of trees isn’t diverse. The problem of ALB in worcester is a tragically perfect example of this idea.
The fifth and final big idea about tree diversity is simply this, that diversity is beautiful. To illustrate this we invited the students to imagine they were a painter with a palette in their hands. Then we told them to imagine two scenarios; in the first their palette only had one color on it, in the second their palette had as many colors as they could imagine. We all agreed that it would still be possible to make something that looked nice with only one color but that with all of the colors we could want we could make something much more beautiful. The same is true of our landscapes, each tree has a beauty of its own and if we only ever planted one kind of tree it would still be very beautiful, but because we have so many kinds of trees we can make the places where we work and play even more beautiful.
Whether it’s about diversity in our planted landscapes or social landscapes we all have plenty to learn. It’s a big world out there and there’s beauty to be found everywhere. I hope that my new friends will create something beautiful in celebration of Arbor Day as they make these posters to represent the diversity of our trees.