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Saturday, June 15, 2024

National Arbor Day is April 26th – Plant Trees and Go Big Tree Hunting

Following closely after Earth Day in America, which was established in the 1970s to bring attention to the importance of our planet, an older secular celebration takes place in many communities across the globe to honor trees.

Arbor Day has been celebrated worldwide since the first festivities were documented to have taken place about 450 years ago in Spain. In 1805, the once three-day festival became more organized. At that time, a local priest tirelessly declared and memorialized the planting of trees as a way to counter the ravages of the Napoleonic Wars. He drafted a manifesto that was soon spread throughout his country stating that trees were vital for health, hygiene, custom and community.

The first Arbor Day tree – a poplar, was planted in Villanueva de la Sierra – the spot marked by a granite monument with a bronze plate dated 1805. Manifestos were drafted and spread throughout the country and beyond in defense of trees and in spreading love and respect for nature.

First American Arbor Day

The first American Arbor Day may have no doubt taken place on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska, when an estimated one million trees were planted in the state. Birdsey Northrop of Connecticut is credited with globalizing the idea soon after via Arbor Day speeches in several countries on behalf of the American Forestry Association.

McCreight & Pinchot influence President Theodore Roosevelt

Beginning in 1906, Pennsylvania conservationist Major Israel McCreight criticized President Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation speeches as catering too much to businessmen in the lumber industry. At the time, unfettered clearcutting of forests was taking place with streams and rivers becoming congested and polluted by the millions of trees that were regularly floated downstream to the lumber mills. He called for a campaign of youth education and a national policy on conservation education. 

McCreight urged Roosevelt to make a public statement to school children about trees and the destruction of American forests. Conservationist Gifford Pinchot, Chief of the United States Forest Service, embraced McCreight’s recommendations and asked the President to speak to public school children of the United States about conservation.

On April 15, 1907, Roosevelt issued an “Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States” about the importance of trees asserting that forestry deserves to be taught in U.S. schools and he declared it a National Holiday. Pinchot wrote of McCreight, “we shall all be indebted to you for having made the suggestion.”

Arbor Day is celebrated worldwide, in various forms and on different dates, mostly dependent on planting seasons.

Our Arbor Day

New Jersey and all but two Northeast states celebrate Arbor Day this Friday, April 26, as the final Friday in April.

According to press released by the New Jersey Forest Service (NJFS), they have been overseeing the NJ Big Tree Conservation Program and keeping a record of the largest trees in the state since the 1930s. As part of the program, the Forest Service maintains the Big Tree List, a compilation of the largest native and naturalized tree species in the state.  These trees have been nominated by NJ residents and have environmental and historical value and should be preserved for future generations. 

New Jersey takes pride in its big trees and for good reason. These mammoth trees are not just tree resources; they are mega tree resources, providing up to 600 times the environmental benefits of typical trees. 

Benefits of big trees include the following:

  • Removal of tons of pollution from our air annually 
  • Combat climate change by removing CO2
  • Lower electric costs up to 50% via shading
  • Reduce the heat/island effect 
  • Prevention of water runoff, erosion, and water pollution 
  • Prevention of flooding 
  • Filtration of ground water by absorbing nutrients and toxins through roots
  • Wildlife habitats
  • Wood and high quality forest products 
  • Unification of communities and organizations
  • Increase in property values by as much as 15% 
  • Slow water evaporation via shade which saves water 
  • Visually pleasing barriers 
  • Natural sound barriers 
  • Increase traffic to businesses 
  • Mark the seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall) 

Some of New Jersey’s big trees also have historic value, and have been around for hundreds of years, witnessing many state and local historical events. These trees are called Heritage Trees. These older trees are scattered throughout the state are an important part of New Jersey’s natural heritage and occupy all the unique geographic regions found in the state. We, as humans, can use these trees to tell stories of the past or to preserve the memories we make today for our children. 

The benefits of conserving these trees are countless. That is why the New Jersey Forest Service changed the name of the program from The Champion Tree Program to the Big Tree Conservation Program in 2019. The New Jersey Forest Service takes great pride in educating the public on the proper conservation and maintenance of big and heritage trees to help ensure that they will survive for many years to come.  

According to an April 25, 2014, article by Lisa Rose, “New Jersey’s Mighty Tall Trees Have Deep Roots”, “The Garden State is home to 14 record-holding trees. These branched behemoths are the largest of their kind in the nation, encompassing a range of species. Champs include a 93-foot Swamp White Oak in front of a medical building in Franklin Township, a 49-foot Gray Birch in a Middle Township backyard and a 66-foot American Yellowwood near a Morris County playground.”

A Big Tree near our readership area, as per the chart of Monumental Trees, is the living giant that exists in front of Sycamore Farms in Hope Township. It is a very well-known American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) dubbed The George Washington Sycamore. This tree, found off County Route 519, has a girth that measures 8.05 meters. The Monumental Trees website offers very helpful tips for measuring girth, or the tree’s circumference at breast height (CBH), plus when and how often to take said measurements.

North Warren has numerous Co-Champion Trees as well as Big Heritage Trees of note, representing diverse species like oaks, sycamores, poplars and even large birches. See the NJDEP Registry Map of Big and Heritage Trees for more information.

If you know of a big tree that you want to nominate or have a possible challenger to the current champion, please send your nomination to:                                                     

Joseph C. Bennett, Big and Heritage Tree Coordinator
Division of Parks and Forestry
Community Forestry Program
501 East State Street
Mail Code 501-4
PO Box 420
Trenton, NJ 08625
Phone# 609-292-2532
Fax # 609-984-0378

Happy Big Tree Hunting!  

Program Definitions:

  • Status:  New Jersey big trees are classified by status
  • National Champion Tree: The biggest tree of its species in New Jersey and the United States.
  • Champion Tree: The biggest tree of its species in New Jersey.
  • Co-Champion: A tree that is within 10 points of the state champion and also considered champion.
  • Heritage Tree:  A tree that has a story of historic significance associated with it.
  • Heritage Champion: The biggest tree of its species in New Jersey that also has a story of historic significance associated with it.
  • Signature Tree:  A runner-up tree – 2nd, 3rd, 4th place etc.
  • Trail Tree:  Trees that were bent into an L-shape by Native Americans using leather.  They were made to face a direction such as due north or due south etc.
  • Emeritus: Trees that were removed by nature or man but are not forgotten.
  • Points:  Big trees are ranked by size with respect to points. Points are calculated by measuring a tree’s height, circumference, and average crown and then applying them to the following formula.
         Points = .25(avg. crown) + height in ft. + circumference in inches
  • Rank: Rank refers to a big tree’s size by species with respect to its total points i.e. 1st, 2nd, 5th, 15th, etc.

Desiree Dunn
Desi L. Dunn, Writer
Managing Editor at Desiree L. Dunn, LLC

Born & educated in NY with an Environmental Science degree from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Desi's family resides in Hardwick with a young teen and several spoiled pets. Considering northwest Jersey to be a true gem, her commitment to the people and environs is exemplified by the many different jobs she's had - municipal & county official, election clerk, open space plan writer, newspaper & radio journalist, grant writer, events coordinator and farm market manager as well as retail, waitressing, archaeological digger and once for a short while in a very huge warehouse.

Her favorite was as a reporter for many years with the Recorder newspapers, Blairstown Press, Paulinskill Chronicle, Gannett publications plus WNTI Public Radio producing public affairs and human interest stories on-air.

She often has her camera ready to capture interesting people and events. She's thrilled to now serve as RVE's Managing Editor, helping fellow writers hone their skills and show you the issues as well as treasures that exist in North Warren, through their eyes.