Friday is officially Arbor Day in Georgia. Big woop, huh?
Well yeah, as a matter of fact. How about one day a year to honor a plant that gives us so much; like food, shelter, medicines, heat and sailing ships that carried people and commerce around the world for hundreds of years. Yes, food; or would you rather go without apples, almonds, apricot, avocado, breadfruit, cashews, citrus — orange, grapefruit and tangerines, cherry, figs, kiwi, mulberry, nectarines, olives, peach, pecan, pear, plum, persimmons, pomegranate, quince or cacao. Ah, yes, cacao, the source for chocolate.
What about coffee? It’s a companion for most of us and an obsession for others.
Or how about shelter? Few of us can afford a stone or concrete castle. Wood is our homebuilding material of choice. Oh, and you are reading a newspaper right now, printed on paper made most likely from Georgia pine, like your house.
Two thirds of the land of Georgia is managed timber stands.
Trees are sources of medicines as well. Willow tree bark is a natural reliever of mouth pain. The genus name of willows — Salix — gives salicylic acid its name. We take a stabilized form called acetylsalicylic acid for general pain relief. You know it as aspirin.
On the other end of the spectrum are compounds like taxol, which comes from the Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia, which showed promising results treating ovarian cancer and metastatic breast cancer.
Locally the live oak, Quercus virginiana L. has been important for shipbuilding, national defense and the agricultural economy. Live oak was highly prized for the hulls of wooden warships. In the War of 1812 the new United States had a navy of just three battle-ready heavy frigates, but they were made of live oak. The live oak for the USS Constitution came from St. Simons Island. The British Admiralty ordered its navy not to engage the Americans, so feared was the resilience of live oak hulls and the excellent accuracy of American cannoneers. Darien was built on lumber and was a world leader as a lumber port. As a result, the Bank of Darien was the strongest bank east of the Mississippi and south of Philadelphia.
In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt declared that the Southeast faced the nation’s worst economic conditions. At that time, all American newspapers were being printed on Canadian spruce paper. Everybody knew Southern pines were just too full of resin to be suitable for paper manufacture. Dr. Charles Herty of the Georgia Forestry Commission thought that if Georgia Southern pine was cared for properly and harvested young it might be a good source for newspaper. The Georgia Forestry Commission and the city of Savannah entered into a joint venture and built Herty a laboratory on River Street in Savannah. In less than two years, the first roll of Georgia pine newspaper was produced by his lab, and six months later the six major daily newspapers in Georgia printed their first editions on Georgia Southern pine. Six months after that, Union Bag located in Savannah and, later, more paper companies joined them in Georgia. The Southeast started bootstrapping itself out of the Depression.
In Richmond Hill, the Coastal Bryan Tree Foundation has held many community tree planting events. The rewards are accruing. The live oaks on Ford Avenue between the railroad tracks are starting to make a statement about our county’s tree heritage. Yes, we will soon lose the massive live oaks at the intersection of highways 144 and 17, but planting new trees across the community can eventually replace them and continue the tree heritage we enjoy.
That’s how we got the big trees we have today. Our predecessors long past paid it forward for us. It’s our turn to do the same.