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One Tree at a Time

A group of children hold shovels and help fill in a hole where a new tree has been planted
Children help plant a tulip tree at their school. The Morton Arboretum donated the tree and helped students learn about the importance of trees.
November 3, 2016

At the base of a young tulip tree, an intent toddler bundled in an oversize puffy coat sprinkled soil from a plastic shovel. She looked up at her teacher to check for a nod of approval, and then her face widened in a shy smile. 

The tree was among 17 planted in April by staff from The Morton Arboretum—with help from young children—at Educare Chicago, a preschool on Chicago’s South Side that aims to give economically challenged children a better start in life. “Our goal is for these trees to grow right alongside the children,” says Gerard T. Donnelly, PhD, the Arboretum’s president and CEO.

Earlier, Arboretum staff had worked with Bartlett Tree Experts to remove trees that were declining.  Now the preschool, one of a network operated by the nonprofit Ounce of Prevention Fund, is surrounded by green spaces with a variety of healthy young trees, including native oaks and elm, maple, and planetree varieties developed at the Arboretum. 

It was just one example of the Arboretum’s involvement in improving the landscape of the Chicago region, one tree at a time. 

For example, the Arboretum is working with the Illinois Tollway on a plan to plant 58,000 trees along its 286 miles of highways in 12 counties. The trees will provide significant environmental benefits. They will also make the morning commute more pleasant, says Robert Schillerstrom, chairman of the Illinois Tollway. “We’re trying to make the tollways look more like Illinois,” he said. 

Schillerstrom, an Arboretum trustee, knew just where to seek tree expertise. 

“The tollway and the Arboretum have been neighbors for a long time,” he said. The Arboretum is bounded on the south and east by tollways. “I thought: We’ve got this opportunity to plant trees, and our neighbor, the Arboretum, is the foremost expert in the world on planting trees.” 

Arboretum expertise has already informed the planting of many trees in the Chicago region, in locations including Millennium Park, the Museum Campus, and Lake Shore Drive. In south suburban Blue Island, the Arboretum assisted with 29 trees planted this spring by the side of the Cal-Sag channel. 

The Chicago Region Trees Initiative, a partnership based at the  Arboretum, helped find funding for those trees and organized volunteers to get them in the ground. It was a tangible demonstration of CRTI’s work to improve the quality of life in the Chicago region by supporting municipal staff and other landowners to plant trees and care for them. All CRTI training and projects are based on the Arboretum’s long legacy of tree science. 

“The Arboretum has been fabulous, with its knowledge, its volunteers, and its support, helping us with planting and with learning about the trees and their maintenance,” said Domingo F. Vargas, mayor of the city of Blue Island. 

Arboretum expertise is behind the ArbNet accreditation program for arboreta and other tree-focused botanical gardens, which encourages standards for species diversity and tree care. ArbNet, an interactive, collaborative, international community of arboreta, celebrated its fifth anniversary on Arbor Day. 

West suburban Oak Park recently became the first Illinois municipality to have its entire complement of publicly owned trees accredited as an arboretum by ArbNet. The village already had a strong, well-organized forestry program and a tree inventory underway, which made it easier to go through the self-evaluation process and meet the accreditation requirements, according to Rob Sproule, forestry superintendent. 

With the local press reports that the village is an official arboretum, “the accreditation has raised awareness in the community,” he said. “There are people who never even thought about the fact that somebody has to take care of these trees. It works for the long-term benefit of the urban forest.”

Story from Seasons, Autumn 2016. Seasons is a quarterly publication available to members. LEARN MORE