Before there was the infamous Earth Day there was Arbor Day! Arbor Day began in the 1870s in Nebraska when one man simply wanted to see more trees around his town. Over 1,000,000 trees were planted on the first Arbor Day, and the holiday has been observed ever since. Every year, people across the globe plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day. We are honoring this Arbor Day by taking a look at some of the oldest trees in Washington, Dc, and showing love for the evolution of trees!
An Evolution of Trees: A Brief Timeline
It may be hard to wrap your mind around this, but there was a time on Earth before trees existed! Before there were trees, there were aquatic plants, and non-vascular terrestrial plants, such as mosses and liverworts. These plants do not have roots, seeds, or transportation tissues. It wasn’t until the Silurian Period (between 443-419 million years ago) that the climate shifted enough to support the evolution of land plants. It took a while for trees to grow tall and strong enough to support the heavy weight of a canopy. Scientists believe that the first trees were Archaeopteris, which are now extinct.
Next came the evolution of gymnosperms and angiosperms in the Devonian Period (between 419 to 358 million years ago). During this time, the first forests formed! This rise in tree development created shifts in the climate; carbon dioxide was converted into oxygen which was the catalyst for animals to now survive on land.
The Oldest Trees in Washington, DC
Washington, DC is known for its strict tree removal regulations, such as the inability to remove healthy “Heritage trees” and tight permitting to protect the urban canopy. This means that some of the oldest trees in DC are in residential yards! While we may not be able to uncover the true oldest in the capital, we have found some other ancient beauties for you and your family to check out this arbor day!
Interestingly, one of the oldest trees in the area is California’s state tree, the Giant Sequoia. On the south lawn of the US Capitol building is a giant sequoia estimated to be over 100 years old! It was planted there in the 1960s to honor the Cherokee Nation.
Perhaps the oldest tree in DC is this small but mighty Yamaki White Pine bonsai. This historic tree is almost 400 years old and even survived the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima! The tree has undergone several repottings and now resides at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.
The most historic tree on our list is the pair of Southern Magnolias outside of Frederick Douglass’ house in Anacostia. Douglass planted the trees between 1877 and 1882 when he gifted them to his first wife, Anna Murray-Douglass on Cedar Hill.
Located at Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, this Katsura tree is believed to be over 100 years old! Katsura trees are native to Japan and are known for their display of a beautiful array of bright yellow leaves in the Fall.
Image Credit: T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
Celebrate Arbor Day with these Fun Family Activities!
If you didn’t get a chance to celebrate Earth Day last weekend, then this weekend you can make up for it by celebrating Arbor Day! Try out some of these family-friendly activities:
- Plant a tree! The main focus of arbor day is to encourage people to plant trees, so what better way to celebrate?
- Go to the U.S. National Arboretum! Open every day, the U.S. National Arboretum has a vast collection of trees and plants, including the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum!
- Visit a botanical garden with the family!