Celebrating Earth Day: Thank a Tree!

by Nancy Bishop

Trees. All you have to do is look around this area to understand what earned the state the name Pennsylvania — literally meaning “Penn’s Woods.” But did you know that some of the biggest trees in the state can be found right here in our area?

From the state’s largest white cedar tree – found in Montour County – to a bitternut hickory tree in Bloomsburg’s Town Park that is one of the biggest of its kind in the whole country, this area can claim record-breaking trees.

My group of friends hugging the massive Bitternut Hickory at the Bloomsburg Town Park.

And with Earth Day just around the corner on April 22nd, it’s a good time to thank a tree for what it does for the environment, especially for what it does to remove the carbon dioxide – CO2—that is contributing to global warming. Trees absorb CO2, removing it from the air and storing it while releasing oxygen. Research has shown that an acre of trees in one year can absorb the amount of carbon dioxide equal to driving your car 26,000 miles. And one tree can produce enough oxygen for four people.

Trees also absorb odors, filter out particulates, reduce soil erosion, increase fertility and help soil retain moisture. Fallen tree leaves lower soil temperature and prevent soil from losing too much moisture. Decaying leaves that fall onto the ground also turn into food for tree growth.

Trees provide shade, wood for so many products we use, and they’re a renewable resource. They provide habitat for all kinds of wildlife. And who doesn’t love sitting by a cozy wood-burning fireplace on a cold winter night? Or roasting marshmallows over a campfire for s’mores!

Older, larger trees store a lot more carbon than young trees, so the big trees in this area are an important resource we need to protect.

When I was in 7th grade, my English teacher, Miss Shea, made us memorize poetry. One that has always stuck with me is “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer.

It goes like this:

“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.”

And ends:

“Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”

Written in 1913, it certainly describes the woods I see out my window as I write this.  Having lived in a big city during college with very few trees except in a downtown park, I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to live in “Penn’s Woods,” for most of my adult life. Watching the seasons change as the leaves begin to bud in the Spring, provide shade in the Summer, change color in the Fall and drop off signaling the start of Winter make me glad to call this area home! And remind me of a Robert Frost poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” that I also had to memorize … “Whose woods these are, I think I know. His house is in the village though; so he’ll not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up with snow.”

Black Cottonwood tree in Catawissa.

If you’d like to take your own tour of the big trees that are in this area, you can find a categorization of them on the PA Big Trees website. Under the Tree Listings section, type in the counties – Columbia or Montour – and you’ll find a list for each.

But I can recommend the Bitternut Hickory in Bloomsburg that’s reportedly more than 175 years old and several on the grounds of the Danville State Hospital (pictured above at top of blog) in addition to a Siberian Elm that’s number 1 in the state. Also there you’ll find a 102-foot European Copper Beech and a 108-foot Sweetgum.

So go thank a tree for Earth Day! And perhaps you’ll find enjoyment in a road trip to see some of these big trees for yourself.