Trees -- A living, lasting legacy

By Christy Weir 04/28/2011

Arbor Day (April 29) is a nationally celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care.

The first Arbor Day took place on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. It was the brainchild of Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902), who felt that Nebraska’s landscape and economy would benefit from the wide-scale planting of trees.

Nebraska’s first Arbor Day was an amazing success — more than one million trees were planted.

In the years following that first Arbor Day, Morton’s idea spread beyond Nebraska with Kansas, Tennessee, Minnesota and Ohio all proclaiming their own Arbor Days. Today, all 50 states celebrate Arbor Day although the dates may vary in keeping with the local climate. At the federal level, in 1970, President Richard Nixon proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day.

The city of Ventura has a fascinating tree history, starting almost 100 years before the first Arbor Day. After the Mission San Buenaventura was founded in 1782, the Franciscan missionaries planted the first orchard in what was a generally treeless area. The good soil, excellent climate and year-round water from the Ventura River contributed to abundant crops of apples, pears, peaches, pomegranates, bananas, coconuts and figs.

The two great Norfolk Island pines next to the Mission are estimated to be well over 100 years old. Legend says they were planted by a sailing captain in the hope that they would eventually provide a supply of ship masts.

Over the next century, other species were introduced to Ventura, notably palms, eucalyptus and citrus. In 1898, 13 big blue gum eucalyptus saplings were planted on a hilltop above Ventura. Over time, eleven were lost to vandalism, fire and disease. But Two Trees remain there today, a much-loved symbol of our city.

In 1922, several tall palm trees near the Mission were the inspiration for the name and logo of Las Palmas brand enchilada sauce, created by a Ventura resident named Rosa Ramirez. You’ll still see the Las Palmas label with distinctive Ventura palms on store shelves worldwide.

Thousands of acres of fertile land east of Seaward Avenue flourished with walnut, citrus and avocado orchards for most of the 20th century, providing an economic base for the growing city of Ventura.

Today, Ventura’s urban forest of more than 30,000 trees in our parks and along our streets is one of the most vital pieces of our city’s infrastructure, providing numerous benefits for our residents. Trees enhance aesthetics in both business and residential districts, significantly improving property values, defining our streetscapes, blocking wind and naturally cooling our homes. Trees help to shade our streets, which provides a pleasant walking environment, greatly reduces the amount of radiated heat from asphalt roadways and extends the longevity of the pavement.  

Important environmental benefits are also obtained from Ventura’s urban forest.  For example, trees produce the oxygen we breathe – one acre of forest absorbs 6 tons of carbon dioxide and puts out 4 tons of oxygen, enough to meet the needs of 16 people. Many harmful atmospheric gases such as nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and ozone are neutralized in trees, helping to keep our air clean. Trees channel rainwater into the ground, which recharges our groundwater supply and prevents runoff and erosion.

For the homeowner, Arbor Day is an excellent opportunity to take stock of the trees on your property. Inspect your trees for dead branches or evidence of disease or insect infestation. Think about how planting new trees might improve the look of your property or provide wind or heat protection. Take a trip to a local nursery to see what’s available and to get new ideas. Walk around your neighborhood. Look for public areas where tree planting or tree maintenance might make a real difference.  The city of Ventura will plant street trees in your neighborhood, at your request. Please call the City of Ventura Parks Department at 652-4550, and our urban forestry staff will be happy to talk with you about recommended species and will schedule a planting.

Helping us celebrate Arbor Day this year is Girl Scout Troop 60891, which will be planting five trees at Camino Real Park at 4 p.m. on Arbor Day. These Girl Scouts are contributing a living and lasting gift to our community and we are grateful for their example of service to our beautiful city of San Buenaventura.    

Anyone interested in volunteering to help with our urban forest, please contact Ventura City Councilwoman Christy Weir at cweir@ci.ventura.ca.us or 654-7740.

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