A’ Is for April and Arbor Day

Casey Trees walks the walk, by demonstrating how sidewalks and curbs can create just enough space to grow trees and flowers.

April is the month that moves us officially from winter to spring. The cherry blossoms are popping at the Tidal Basin, tulips are ready to show their colors and April features the national holiday known as Arbor Day. National Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday in April. In 2019, DC will kick off Arbor Day with the sixth annual Canopy Awards, sponsored by the Casey Trees Foundation.

For 134 years, our country has been celebrating the importance and beauty of trees. Over time, school children, civic groups, farmers and property owners have celebrated Arbor Day by planting millions of trees, helping support a healthy environment.

Arbor Day Eve Party
Every state celebrates Arbor Day in its own way, and some states even change the date to better reflect their climate. For instance, Maryland celebrates the first Wednesday in April. As it has traditionally done, Casey Trees, DC’s premier tree group, will host a party on April 25, Arbor Day Eve. It will take place at Union Market’s Dock 5, located at 1309 Fifth St. NE.

Typically, over 500 tree enthusiasts gather to honor civic and local government heroes who are changing DC’s urban landscape. Past recipients include Tommy Wells of the DC Department of Energy & Environment; DC Parks and Recreation and the Office of Planning. There is a special cocktail featured at the event infused with hints of cherry blossoms. A ticket to the event costs $75 at the door, and there are opportunities to bid on tree-inspired services and products at the silent auction. It is a fun way to be part of the city’s tree advocacy community.

Casey Trees is located at 3030 12th St. NE, Washington, DC 20017. The administrative offices cover one corner, and across the street is the annex which houses the heavy equipment needed for planting trees.

‘Roots to Rivers’ Is This Year’s Theme
The 2019 event is highlighting the connections between trees and the health of our Anacostia and Potomac rivers. Trees that live near waterways are called riparian trees and they are essential to the health of a river. Trees are natural sponges, soaking up pollutants before the toxins enter the water. Their roots reduce erosion and slow the river’s flow, helping control flooding. Research has shown that having trees along the rivers is linked to reduced treatment costs for drinking water.

The canopy of the trees provides shade so that fish species can survive. A mix of dappled light and shade provided by the trees offers cooling places for the aquatic life to lay eggs. Aquatic life depends on the woody material and leaves that fall into the river for important nutrients and food.

Dr. Yemonja Smalls won first prize in the Hill Center’s regional art show “Treemendous.” Her oil painting features the color of the culture that honors Balboa trees in Africa. She wore a crown of sticks at the show’s opening.

It works the other way as well. Rivers help trees grow and stay healthy by providing a steady source of water. Working together, trees and rivers help ensure the natural health of our region. Did you know that just one large tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for four people?

Casey Trees began in 2001 with a $50 million grant from DC philanthropist Betty Brown Casey. Its mission is to restore, enhance and protect the District’s tree canopy.

Casey Trees’ first major initiative, in 2002, was to inventory all of DC’s street trees. Over 500 volunteers and 35 university student interns conducted a comprehensive GIS inventory of 106,000 trees. These findings are used today by DC’s Urban Forestry Division and are updated every year. Staff at the division credit the inventory with much of today’s success in reaching canopy goals.

The current average tree canopy coverage for the city is 38 percent, down from 50 percent in 1950. This year’s canopy analysis confirms that the 80,000 trees planted citywide over the past 15 years are starting to get big. And just as important, thousands of large trees protected by the tree laws keep growing. The city has a goal of 40-percent tree coverage by 2032.

Sunset along the Anacostia River features the riparian trees that are being celebrated at Casey Trees’ annual Arbor Day Eve party.

Celebrating Trees through Art
Another way to celebrate trees is to visit the Hill Center’s unique art show, “Treemendous.” Over 90 local artists submitted artwork depicting their interpretation of trees for this show, which runs through April 28 on three floors of the Hill Center. Carole Ottesen, a writer, photographer and illustrator specializing in garden subjects, juried the show. She says that, while she has spent her career writing and photographing trees, after looking at almost 700 works of art, she came away with a newfound appreciation and love for trees. “I walk down the street now and I cannot take my eye and mind off the trees I see. The bark, the tree structure and the tree’s place in the landscape, all are calling to me,” she explains.

The first-place winner of the juried show, “Under the Baobab Tree,” painted by Dr. Yemonja Smalls, demonstrates how global and joyful trees can be when you combine cultural vision with nature. Dr. Smalls’ artworks have been exhibited in Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, South Side Community Art Center and School of the Art Institute, and in New York’s Harlem Fine Arts Show, and examples sit in private collections across the nation. The Capitol Hill Art League, a project of the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, cosponsored the show. Jona Elwell, communications specialist for Casey Trees, spoke at the opening event, introducing the large crowd to the services that Casey Trees offers residents so that artists can continue to be inspired by the city’s trees.

Mark your calendar for April 8, when Casey Trees unveils the winners of the 2019 Canopy Awards. Tickets can sell out for the Arbor Day Eve party, so get yours early, https://caseytreesdc.github.io/canopyawards/.


Rindy O’Brien participated as a volunteer in the original Casey Tree inventory and also has a black-and-white photograph in the “Treemendous” exhibition. She can be reached at rindyobrien@gmail.com.