Students plant cherry trees in honor of Arbor Day

May 2—A dozen kids in Nicole Camel's eighth-grade WEB class gathered at Boettcher Park Friday to plant a trio of flowering cherry trees. The Polson Middle School students are continuing a pre-pandemic tradition of planting trees in city parks on Arbor Day.

"When they come back and bring their kids to this park, they'll see something that they were part of as a community," Camel said.

John Campbell, a certified plant professional and nursery manager at Delaney's Landscape Center, extolled the many virtues of trees before students began planting them in pre-dug holes. Those include the obvious — such as growing pollen for bees, producing fruit, and supplying building materials and firewood — and the not-so-apparent benefits.

Trees in a landscape can help promote healing, cool an overheated planet, exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen, and even, studies suggest, bring down crime rates. They have also shown a knack for cooperation, he said, noting how tiny mycorrhizal networks have been shown to transfer water, nitrogen, carbon and other minerals between trees.

"People and trees have come along together over thousands of years, and they're an essential part of every community and every environment on the planet," Campbell told students. "Trees are incredible survivors."

Polson City Parks employee Walter Eggebrecht told students the city plans to place plaques at the base of each tree so that visitors know that PMS students had a hand in beautifying Boettcher Park. He said the parks department elected to plant the Spring Wonder Sargent cherry trees "because we're known as a cherry community."

Shawn Morgan, who works for the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, was on hand for the planting project too. He spoke about the importance of healthy forests.

"Right now, we're seeing an overabundance of insect and disease problems, which is creating a lot of mortality on the landscape," he told students.

As one trio of students grabbed shovels, Eggebrecht showed them how to pull the trees from their containers and trim and loosen the coiled roots before placing them in the ground. "You want to make sure that these roots get nice and set free," he said. "If you don't, those roots will continue to grow in a circle."

The three eighth grade girls approached the planting project seriously, inquiring whether playing classical music might help their tree grow. When they were done, they named the tree Cherry Valance, for a character in The Outsiders TV series. Another group called theirs George Bush.

According to their teacher, the annual Arbor Day project helps students understand their connection to the community and that they're part of "a bigger picture."

"The more community things they do, the better," Camel added.

Pete Ridgeway, chair of the Polson Parks and Tree Board, was on hand, and explained that the new trees were funded by a grant from the Arbor Day Foundation, adding that Delaney's "has always been a very generous partner" in the project.

As Campbell noted, the trees will provide shade and beauty for generations to come. "These trees could live 50 or 100 years," he told the young tree planters. "They could outlive all of us."