Tree lovers were saddened by the sudden death in mid-January of “The Senator,” a 125-foot pond cypress that had been growing in Longwood, Florida (near Orlando) for 3,500 years! Well before the creation of Mickey Mouse. The oldest such tree in the world, it was a contemporary of a decidedly non- Disney character — I’m talking about Alexander the Great! The police investigation ruled out arson, concluding that a fire caused by either lightning or wind friction near the top caused the hollow tree to burn from within.
Although I have seen many sequoias and redwoods (which can grow to 367 feet, higher than the Statue of Liberty), I had never visited The Senator. That opportunity is now gone. There is, however, another tree that has been standing nearby in the Longwood swamp for 2,000 years, in case you decide to make a tree pilgrimage.
Here on the peninsula, we have six 100-foot tulip trees on Dickens Street in Far Rockaway, but they are only about 120 years old. Much of the western end of the peninsula was once dotted with Eastern red cedars, but recent statistics show that the overall tree canopy on the Rockaway Peninsula is now below the citywide average, a problem that the Mayor’s Million Trees Project is focused on rectifying. Assistance and funding has been provided by singer Bette Midler and her New York Restoration Project.
Why plant a tree? Well, to start with, if you are 40 years old, you have used the equivalent of a 100-foot tree for each year of your life. That is, if you have purchased newspapers, books, magazines, tissues, paper towels, housing furniture, decks, fences, bags and boxes. Add to that the fact that a tree can absorb 26 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, replacing it with life-giving oxygen.
Trees provide another important benefit to local waterways, dramatically decreasing flood levels and filtering excess phosphorus and nitrates found in polluted stormwater. Perhaps most critical, they also lower the water table, which has risen more than thirty feet in Southeast Queens over the past 20 years, according to the City’s Department of Environmental Protection. You may be aware of that statistic already, if you have a basement without a sump pump.
My family did our part in 1994 when we moved to Rockaway. A 3-foot-high maple sapling perched in a gap between a stone retaining wall and our neighbor’s fence was dug up and replanted in a roomy spot. It now towers over the garage and provides cooling shade in summer.
We were skeptical about the prospects for a small, damaged apple tree, but my father performed expert surgery and within several years, the tree flowered and produced enough fruit to make a batch of apple butter. Many of us believe that only God can make a tree. But humans can derive great satisfaction from protecting and nurturing them.
Lest you be overly impressed by the goal set by the Mayor to eventually plant one million trees here in the city, consider that this many were planted in the State of Nebraska on a SINGLE DAY in April, 1872, when Arbor Day was observed for the first time, at the urging of newspaper publisher J. Sterling Morton.
Here in New York and in states with a similar climate, Arbor Day is now celebrated annually on the last Friday in April.
This year, 100 trees of several different species will be given away locally on Saturday, April 28, at an Arbor Weekend event spearheaded by the Rockaway Civic Association. Civic board member Harold Paez, Jr. initiated and is coordinating the giveaway, which will occur in the parking lot of the Belle Harbor Yacht Club, at Beach 126 Street and Beach Channel Drive, starting at 10 a.m.
Keep in mind that these trees are specially selected for planting in the yards of homes, businesses, and community organizations such as houses of worship and other not-for-profits, NOT in street tree pits or containers. Instructions on tree planting and care will be provided at the event. Half of the trees can be obtained by making an advance reservation online, and it’s first-come, firstserved for the rest.
Last year, a similar Brooklyn event gave out all available trees in a halfhour flat! So watch for more details coming in the month of March, at www.rockawaycivic.com, or in The Wave.