SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (April 26, 2023)—The president and CEO of The Morton Arboretum, Jill Koski, announced today that students at John R. Lewis Middle School in Waukegan, Ill., planted the 3,000th tree that met the goal for the Arboretum’s yearlong Centennial Tree Planting Initiative and also established a new food forest.
“This initiative helped the Arboretum make significant progress in expanding urban and community forests as well as building partnerships with municipalities and organizations to care for the trees so they remain healthy and provide their many benefits for years to come,” Koski said at a press conference in advance of Arbor Day, which is celebrated on April 28 in Illinois this year. “We need more individuals and organizations to continue this work if we are going to adequately address widespread inequities in the availability of mature tree canopies that provide a first line of defense against climate impacts throughout the state.”
The 26 trees planted at the middle school on April 12 were the first in the WaukGrow Food Forest project plan for locations throughout the Waukegan area to reduce the impacts of the Waukegan Food Desert. Food forests are food-producing plots in communities that mimic the structure and functionality of a natural forest, with trees that provide fruit as well as attract pollinators and provide beneficial shade for smaller food plants that may not be able to tolerate as much sunlight.
A second location will be established with the help of the Arboretum-led Chicago Region Trees Initiative (CRTI) at Waukegan’s Most Blessed Trinity Holy Family Church, where 11 trees will be planted in May to support their food pantry and soup kitchen.
“Science has demonstrated how the presence of neighborhood trees can make a substantial difference in quality of life, especially for vulnerable populations,” Koski said. “Beyond producing food, mature, well-maintained trees can help address many challenges communities face such as lowering heat, reducing flooding and removing pollution, among many other benefits,” she noted, adding that new trees must be planted now for those benefits to be available in the future.
The Arboretum also offers support services statewide and nationally including educational programming, tree care and planting training and a free Plant Clinic. It also leads the Chicago Region Trees Initiative, a broad coalition of partners working together to increase equitable tree planting, care and conservation so more people have access to the myriad benefits trees provide. CRTI also supports organizations throughout the state by providing expertise and services such as technical assistance to improve urban forests, through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Urban and Community Forestry Program.
“Equity is at the heart of our partnership’s goals,” said Lydia Scott, director of CRTI. “We have data to help us identify where the challenges of a low canopy are most prevalent, and we are working with vulnerable communities to address these issues and produce healthier outcomes for both people and trees.”
Illinois State Senators Laura Ellman, Suzy Glowiak Hilton and Seth Lewis also participated in the press conference.
The Arboretum’s Centennial Tree Planting Initiative was funded entirely through philanthropic contributions as part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 2022. The first tree planted on April 22, 2022, was a specially cultivated Centennial linden (Tilia ‘Zamoyskiana’ CentennialTM) produced from a tree in the Arboretum’s collections that was originally obtained from the Kórnik Arboretum in Poland in 1934. Since then, 51 different species of trees were planted in 68 Illinois communities with the help of 3,710 volunteers.
“This Arbor Day provides an opportunity to commit to immediate and long-term action, working together to increase tree planting and conservation to ensure a resilient future across Illinois,” Koski said. “If we are going to make a real impact, it’s essential to plant the right trees in the right places and provide the right care so they grow to maturity.”
Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by the Morton family, whose motto was “Plant Trees.” That legacy continues with Morton Salt, Inc., the Premier Plant Trees sponsor of The Morton Arboretum. Both organizations were founded by Joy Morton.