I learned a ritual recently for planting a tree: gather a bunch of people close around the freshly planted sapling, and then all yell at the top of your lungs. It’s called "waking the tree,” according to Joe Imhoff, a guy from Hawaii.
Imhoff and his wife are traveling around the country planting at least one native tree in each state - modern-day Johnny Appleseeds. They are trying to raise awareness about the importance of native trees. They also are making a documentary about the project. The couple has planted in 14 states so far.
On Tuesday, June 15, the couple and lots of volunteers planted a young serviceberry tree on the grounds of the Cheapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) headquarters in Annapolis, MD.
Imhoff and his wife Sara Tekula call their project Plant a Wish. The idea is, before you plant the tree, you write a wish down on a piece of paper and put it into the hole where the tree will go. On Tuesday, CBF staff and visiting students filled the hole with wishes, then each threw in a handful of dirt.
CBF’s expert on native vegetation, Marcy Damon, explained to the group that the serviceberry tree got its name from New Englanders who had to wait till the spring thaw to bury their deceased. They planted the particular species alongside the now thawing corpse.
Native trees and plants are indigenous to a specific region (eg. The Mid-Atlantic) or area (eg. the county where you live). They are adapted to local conditions of moisture, soil, and seasonal temperatures. While native plants are not maintenance-free, they require much less water, fertilizer, and care than non-native plants.
With increased development, deforestation, loss of habitat, and extensive lawns, the Chesapeake Bay watershed has lost much of the diversity and genetic heritage of its native trees and plants. Local wildlife, such as birds, insects, and mammals are also critically dependent on native vegetation (the zebra swallowtail butterfly, for example, feeds almost exclusively on pawpaw trees during its larval stage).
CBF volunteers have planted tens of thousands of native trees, shrubs and plants (raised on CBF’s Clagett Farm in Upper Marlboro) throughout the watershed as part of the organization’s restoration of farms, shorelines and in other projects. CBF also encourages homeowners to plant native vegetation. Information is available at the CBF website.
"Being able to plant a tree on the shore of the Chesapeake is very important to me," Tekula said. "I lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia as a child, and my father was a Bay fisherman. I grew up living off of the bays nearby where we lived, and deeply understand the need for the bays to remain healthy and biodiverse. "