By Mickey Gorman
The city of Lexington celebrated Arbor Day with a ceremonial tree-planting in Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery on Tuesday.
About a half-dozen people gathered to watch a 10-year-old, male Kentucky coffee tree replace a Red Oak that was uprooted during the violent thunderstorm, known as a derecho, which hit the area June 29. The Red Oak was estimated to be roughly 120 years old, making it one of the oldest trees in the city.
Lexington has been a registered Tree City since 2000. Each year the city must reapply to be a Tree City through the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit organization. There are several qualifications a city must meet; holding a city Arbor Day is one of them.
“This is definitely a piece of the puzzle,” city arborist Jennifer Hughes said. “We are anticipating a fourteenth year.”
Hughes designated Oct. 23 as Lexington’s Arbor Day because autumn provides a better growing season than the spring.
“The roots will grow all winter so the tree will be better developed come spring,” said Barbara White, community forestry coordinator for the Virginia Department of Forestry.
One of the benefits of being a Tree City is the increased possibility of receiving government grants. Government officials tend to favor Tree Cities when allocating funds for tree and forestry programs, Hughes said.
These certifications also help city arborists build relationships with state forestry department heads, White said. Representatives from the forestry department, like White, are assigned to assist city arborists. White said she works with Hughes to create a strategic biological plan for Lexington.
“We have a unique opportunity to bring in a rarer tree, which will bring in biological diversity to our city,” Hughes said.
Hughes and White said it is important that their plan includes strengthening the city’s ecosystem. They said their goal is to plant a variety of species of trees around the city.
Having a single species of tree in one area leaves the ecosystem vulnerable to a single type of pest, White said.
Virginia has a statewide quarantine of ash wood products because of one pest, the emerald ash borer. According to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, this beetle bores into trees and feeds off inner bark, which is crucial to a tree’s survival.
“We haven’t seen signs of it [in Lexington] yet, but we live in constant fear of the emerald ash borer,” Hughes said.
The fact that there are no signs of the borer does not mean the pest isn’t present, White said.
By the time a tree shows signs of an infestation, it is too late to save. The first signs of an infestation in one tree often mean that other ash trees in the area will be affected, Hughes said.
The newly planted Kentucky coffee tree will never be affected by the emerald ash borer because it is not a member of the ash family, Hughes said.
Hughes said she plans to continue planting biologically diverse trees in her campaign to get Lexington recertified as a Tree City.
Lexington’s application will be up for review in December.