Casting the Arbor Day spotlight on trees

Published on: January 21, 2021

Linda Chion Kenney PHOTOS
Photographed at Riverview Park and Civic Center this month, these stately trees give testament to the natural beauty of the Sunshine State, where live oaks are majestic and the cabbage palm stands tall as the Florida state tree. It’s pictured as well on the seal of Florida’s state flag. The mightly oak is also the chosen symbol for The Observer News, signifying that the 60+-year-old newspaper’s “roots run deep.”

Casting the Arbor Day spotlight on trees


On the occasion of Florida Arbor Day on Jan. 15, we visited Riverview Park and Civic Center to focus on the second-biggest natural attraction there — the stately trees lining the river’s view.

While National Arbor Day is held the last Friday in April, individual states conduct their own Arbor Day celebrations at various times throughout the year in keeping with the best time to plant trees locally.

Florida and Louisiana are the first two states to celebrate Arbor Day each year, setting aside the third Friday in January to do so.

“Florida celebrates Arbor Day in January because many trees are dormant (not actively growing) and lose less water through transpiration (evaporation of water from leaves) this time of year, making them easier to transplant without putting them through too much stress,” according to the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) extension service.

Officials add that planting native trees protects environmental balance, prevents the spread of invasive plants and offsets potential climate change impacts.

Arbor Day traces its roots to 1872, when J. Sterling Morton successfully proposed a day to encourage tree planting in his then tree-barren state of Nebraska. It’s estimated that Nebraskans that year planted more than one million trees.

President Richard Nixon in 1970 proclaimed the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day. As for individual state celebrations, 32 are held in April, mostly in concert with National Arbor Day; six in March; four in May; three in February; two each in January and November; and one in December.

Membership in the nonprofit Arbor Day Foundation comes with one of four options. You can select for the foundation to provide 10 trees to plant at home or to plant10 trees “in a national forest in need” or 10 trees “in a threatened rain forest, aimed to preserve precious habitat for some of the most rare animal species in the world.” A fourth option is “to support tree-planting efforts around the nation or world.”

Through its membership efforts, the foundation reports planting 6.12 million trees in national forests, planting 1.04 million trees in rain forests and distributing 3.7 million trees to members to plant themselves.

Available trees to plant locally in Hillsborough County include one of seven options: white dogwood, river birch, live oak, eastern red cedar, crepe myrtle, bald cypress or American redbud. Visit:

The cabbage palm is Florida’s state tree and is featured on the seal of Florida’s state flag.

In anticipation of Florida Arbor Day in 2019, Hillsborough County officials noted the importance of trees in helping to establish a sustainable landscape, providing approved species lists for ornamental, shade and street trees. (For more, including information sheets on each species, visit

In years past, the UF/IFAS extension service in Seffner gave away free trees to celebrate Arbor Day with a mail art contest. The extension also provides information about planting and caring for trees. Visit:

Meanwhile, the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District each year holds the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge. The focus period runs from Earth Day (April 22) through Arbor Day and NACD Soil Stewardship Week, which ends the first Sunday in May. Visit:

Expected to participate in the challenge this year, as in years past, is TREE, Inc., founded in 1983 to beautify and reforest the Tampa Bay area through the planting of native trees. The group aims also to further public awareness about the merits of reforesting public lands and the merits for planting and preserving native and underutilized varieties of desirable trees of special interest. Visit:

The Riverview Park and Civic Center with its boat ramp is at 11020 Park Drive. Hours of operation are sunrise to sunset. Admission is free. There is a $5 boat launch fee, and the civic center is available for meeting room rentals when not under COVID-19 restrictions. Visit:

Linda Chion Kenney PHOTO
The water view is not the only natural wonder at Riverview Park and Civic Center, where grand trees are live works of art.

Riverview Park and Civic Center is at 11020 Park Drive. Hours are from sunrise to sunset.