In 1978, the Maine legislature designated the third week of May “Arbor Week,” a result of successful lobbying led by a classroom of students from Dover-Foxcroft. They successfully made the case that the national Arbor Day holiday in April, which actually started as a movement to restore trees in Nebraska, wasn’t a great time of year for planting trees in Maine. If you’ve been trying to get any plants to root out in the past few weeks, you know what I mean. Even in these seemingly early springs, Maine’s seedlings and saplings generally wait until mid-May to get growing.
In what we think might just be Maine Audubon’s first-ever Maine Arbor Week, we are celebrating the Pine Tree State’s many species of trees. Our favorites are native species like a dozen or so in the Quercus genus—our beloved Oak trees—and the critically-endangered American Chestnut. Native species have occurred in the landscapes around us for millennia, and countless other taxa, ecosystem services, and human cultures have evolved and adapted alongside them. Maine also boasts a living archive of horticulture transplants, with specimens scattered about our state that are now hundreds of years old and are still growing, blooming, and fruiting. Incredibly, valuable things are happening both inside and outside of the trees all around us.
We are thrilled to get to introduce this week’s presenters for Maine Arbor Week:
Kevin Smith (May 17, 4 pm) is an internationally-recognized plant physiologist who happens to call Greater Portland his home base. He knows LOTS about trees, and is a skilled and passionate communicator. We love and promote trees mostly for everything that they do for others, but Dr. Smith will share some of the magic happening inside of trees, too.
Doug Tallamy (May 18, 7 pm) is the inspiration and author behind “Bringing Nature Home,” the title of his bestselling book and Maine Audubon’s native plants restoration program. He has long held and said that the best thing we can all do for wildlife and habitat in our yards and communities is to plant oak trees, those in genus Quercus. Quercus is the number one host plant for butterflies and moths for most places, meaning the best producer of food for baby birds. After decades of research and numerous books, articles, and presentations on the value of native host plants, Dr. T. has finally had a chance to focus on Quercus in his new book The Nature of Oaks, which he’ll Zoom in from Delaware to talk to us about.
Much of Maine Audubon’s “Bringing Nature Home” work happens with municipalities, and Portland’s Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department has been a partner since the project began. Jeff Tarling, (May 19, 4 pm) Portland’s head of horticulture and longtime city arborist, has juggled the many values and priorities that diverse communities like Maine’s largest city have for their trees. Maine’s Register of Big Trees offers a glimpse of the ecological, economic, ornamental, and cultural history told by our living flora record. Jeff will introduce us to some of Portland’s biggest and State-listed trees, and talk about the statewide Big Trees program and how we can find the historic icons among us.
Conservation must focus on the biggest threats, and the most threatened species and habitats. In the tree kingdom, the equivalent to the Passenger Pigeon is the American Chestnut, once the most abundant tree in North American forests that is now nearly extinct. Thanks to the American Chestnut Foundation and research being done at institutions like the University of New England, there is still hope! Chestnut trees are reproducing and showing signs of resistance to the blight that has nearly wiped them out. Like our other presenters this week, Professor Tom Klak (May 20, 4 pm) personifies and projects both the work and the hope.
Might you already be an expert yourself? Try your hand at family-friendly Terrific Trees trivia night with Molly and Catherine on Tuesday at 6 pm. And take time to observe and recognize the trees in the world around you!