Iviki Lezihlahla, Arbour Week - 30 August to 5 September 2021

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Image by Pezibear from PixabayImage by Pezibear from PixabayThere is an old Chinese proverb which is perfect for arbour week. It says: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” Read the rest of this article below, and also find links to information on the 3 trees which were selected as trees of the year for South Africa in 2021, as well as links to find our Champion Trees.

Throughout the ages people have had an intimate connection with trees.  At the physical level they provide us with oxygen, shelter, food, and medicine, and on a spiritual level people of all nations have always looked at trees with wonder, and honoured their transcendental qualities in a variety of ways.

People have had an intimate connection with trees. Image by Stefan Keller from PixabayPeople have had an intimate connection with trees. Image by Stefan Keller from PixabayPeople and trees have far more things in common than many of us realize. Both people and trees are comprised of mostly water, and an adult is made up of approximately 60% water, and trees are made up of more than 50% water. Both, people and trees stand upright with a crown on top and limbs stemming from a central trunk. Even the tubular branching pattern of our lungs resembles the root systems of many trees.

According to an article in the Smithsonian in March 2018, researchers have compiled evidence that trees of the same species are actually communal organisms, just like humans, and even form alliances with trees of other species. The research also revealed that trees growing in forests have evolved to live in interdependent and cooperative relationships with each other, and communicate with one another, having a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony, or a city.

Tree of Life Symbol. Image by Michael Gaida from PixabayTree of Life Symbol. Image by Michael Gaida from PixabayThe early Greeks and Persians, as well as many other ancient peoples throughout history, used the world tree motif symbol, which shows the roots of the tree wrapped around Earth with its branches in the heavens. This symbol represents a tree which supports the heavens and connects the heavens to the terrestrial world, and with its roots, also the underworld. It also symbolises the potential ascent of humans from the realm of matter to the higher reaches of the spirit, or the possibility of mystical access from one plane of being to another.

The “Tree of Life”, or trees used as a symbol, can be found throughout various religious texts. This includes the Tree of Knowledge and Tree of Life in the Bible, the Tree of Immortality in the Quran, the Assyrian Tree of Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, and the Bo or Bodhi Tree in Buddhism, to name but a few.

In the Jewish and Christian traditions, the tree of life is often used to represent the cycle of life - death and rebirth. The Mexican tree of life often depicts religious stories, such as the tale of Adam and Eve or the story of Noah’s ark. The motif is also a traditional Celtic symbol, where it is often depicted as one big circle connecting all forms of life. We even use the same tree of life design in “family trees” to depict connections within a family group.

Olive Grove. Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from PixabayOlive Grove. Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from PixabaySacred groves of trees have always been an important part of various cultures and religions, who established wooded areas, planting specific trees, as monastic groves. The large number of Shinto and Buddhist groves in Japan, the Garden of Gethsemane in Israel, the cedar groves in Lebanon, the redwood groves along the Pacific coast of North America, and the Shaman forests in south Peru are all good examples of sacred groves.

Throughout history, trees have filled us with wonder and sparked our imaginations. Writers, philosophers, and even the odd politician have found inspiration in the branches and leaves of trees around them. Forests and trees also inspire works of literature, and there are thousands of inspirational quotes and proverbs about trees.

An African Proverb says: “Wisdom is like a baobab tree; no one individual can embrace it”.  W.H. Auden wrote “The trees encountered on a country stroll, reveal a lot about that country’s soul. A culture is no better than its woods.” Herman Hesse wrote Image by HowardWilks from PixabayImage by HowardWilks from Pixabay“Trees are sanctuaries, whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.” And my favourite for right now is an old Chinese proverb which says: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

We look to trees for solace and comfort, as well as spiritual healing,  planting them in therapeutic gardens, and in cemeteries in memory of a loved one who has died, and many people request that their ashes be buried at the foot of a tree, or scattered in a beloved forest. Trees are also planted to commemorate happy, special events, such as the birth of a baby, a graduation, or a Bar Mitzvah.

Unless moved by humans, trees remain rooted in one place throughout their lifetime, standing tall, solid, and strongly rooted in the earth. They become an integral part of the place where they live, a contributing member of a symbiotic community. Trees are good examples for humans to emulate, and learn about our place in the larger community of life.

Arbour Week is a wonderful opportunity to teach our children about the importance of trees in the history of our world, and the vital role they will play in their future.

Tree House. Image by ivabalk from PixabayTree House. Image by ivabalk from PixabayThink back to your childhood, so many memories include the trees in your backyard or old neighbourhood. Perhaps you loved to climb them, or sway from their branches in the swing your dad made for you from an old tyre, and which kid didn’t love tree houses!

Remember when you got married and purchased your first house? You were so proud and decided that it really needed a shade tree, so you planted one. Remember how eagerly you watched it grow along with your family, and not forgetting the family of house sparrows who have nested in it for many generations.

The sentimental value of a special tree is simply immeasurable, and they affect us greatly. We make an emotional connection with the trees we plant, or just the ones that we see every day, perhaps from the window of our office or apartment.  Trees are magic, and we need to plant more!

Planting trees in your neighbourhood will not only provide a physical security in the form of shelter, windbreaks, but also a sense of place — of rootedness. Humans have a strong preference for landscapes with trees or wooded areas, and a study done in the real estate market found that trees increased the property value of homes by 4 to 15 percent – another good reason to plant trees this arbour week.

Arbour Day was first celebrated in South Africa in 1983, capturing the imagination of people who recognised the need for raising awareness of the value of trees in our society. The enthusiasm of all South Africans who understood the importance of this event inspired the national government, in 1999, to extend the celebration of Arbour Day to National Arbour Week.

Trees are much needed in disadvantaged communities who often live in barren areas, and arbour week provides the opportunity for businesses, small and large, as well as schools and community centres, to get involved in raising awareness for the need to plant and grow trees throughout South Africa.

South Africa celebrates Arbour Week in the first week of September annually. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD), as the custodian of forestry in South Africa is responsible for the campaign, and because September is also Heritage Month in South Africa, they also focus on the country’s “Champion Trees.” These include some of the oldest, largest and culturally significant trees, including the Sophia Town Oak Tree, and the Sagole Baobab Tree in Limpopo.

Since 1996 at least two different Trees of the Year were nominated annually by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; one common and one rare species. Before that only one tree was nominated each year. Today, the extended list of trees of the year includes a Common Tree, a Tree for Promotion as well as a Tree for Appreciation. The common tree is one which occurs widely or one which is easy to find or grow. The tree for promotion is one which is not widely cultivated but is not uncommon, and one which we are encouraged to try to source and grow more of. The tree for appreciation would be a species which is more restricted in its distribution range.

In 2021 the Common Tree is the lovely Sweet Thorn, Soetdoring, mookana, mooka, umuNga (Vachenalia karroo). Click here to read more about the sweet thorn.

The Tree for Promotion is the now very popular Spekboom (Portulacaria afra). Click here to read more about the spekboom.

The Tree for Appreciation is the Pepperbark, Peperbasboom, IsiBaha, manaka, shibaha (Warburgia salutaris). Click here to read more about the beautiful pepperbark at PlantZAfrica

Cinnamomum camphora - Champion Camphor Trees at Vergelegen Cinnamomum camphora - Champion Camphor Trees at Vergelegen Why not do something different with the family this Arbour Week, and spend a day visiting one of our Champion Trees, there’s sure to be one close to where you live.

Both indigenous and non-indigenous trees can be nominated for Champion status, and the trees are listed according to size criteria like height and trunk circumference, or their historic value and age. Currently, more than 70 trees and groups of trees have been declared national “Champion Trees” by the Department of Forestry, which means they are fully protected under the National Forests Act of 1998.

Click here to read my free article for Arbour Week 2019, which includes information and links to see our Champion Trees.

If you simply can’t find a suitable indigenous tree, plant any tree you can, they are all valuable. Click here to find articles on growing trees in the garden, as well as handy tree lists. There is not sufficient space to include them all here. 

I hope this article has inspired you to get out your shovel and plant a tree or three for arbour week, and if the indigenous ones are not suitable for your purposes and you want to plant a fruit tree, it does not matter, just plant a tree – please!