welcome to my world: Pennsylvania’s ‘Greene Country’

“Trees” by Joyce Kilmer

“I think that I shall never see

A poem as lovely as a tree.”

From memorizing poetry in grade school, my love of trees spread to real life trees. Having grown up on a farm, I climbed trees, fell back, while hanging on a limb by my knees. Willow trees served as exhilarating swings into the sky and back. Even large tree roots, protruding half-way above the ground, entertained me as a mini-sandbox.

It seems, I’m not the only person in Pennsylvania, who loved trees---namely, the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644-1718). At first Penn wanted to call his new colony, “New Wales,” but it was rejected. He then proposed Sylvania (meaning woodland). Because Penn’s Quaker beliefs were against worldly pride, he did not want his name used. But, the King of England was adamant about the use of Penn, thus we have Pennsylvania or “Penn’s Woodland.”

Surely, one can tell by Penn’s city plan for Philadelphia, that he loved nature. His directions were, “…a greene country town where every house be placed in the middle of the plot, so that there may be ground on each side, for gardens, or orchards or fields and so that it will never be burnt, and always be wholesome.”

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In addition, he created parks and public squares and all east-west streets were named after trees, while north-south streets were numbered. This grid pattern established in Philadelphia , in the 1680s, gave rise to most American towns using the grid system and naming streets after trees.

In my research on Philadelphia, in its early years, I found only local varieties of trees, such as Sassafras, Spruce, Mulberry, Pine, Cedar, Walnut, and Chestnut, to be the tree-named streets.

Although different from tree-named streets, tree-lined streets make communities look great. They also provide shade, and help control storm-water, and increase one’s property value.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1993, the most common street name is Second Street. The top 20 in tree- named streets are Oak, Pine, Maple, Cedar, and Elm. Depending if you live in the northern part of the country, its Maple. Of the 50 most common street names are trees, numbers, and presidents. According to Daniel Craig’s article, for Pennsylvania, the most frequently used road name is Maple, appearing on 542 street signs, Oak gets 463, Pine 427, Second 391, and Cherry at 360.

Other then tree named streets, there is the Tree City USA, where towns “green up” their communities. In order to obtain the status of the Tree City USA, there are 4 standards: 1) maintaining a tree board or department 2) having a community tree ordinance 3) spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry 4) celebrating Arbor Day.

There were too many Tree City USA in Pennsylvania to name, but here are a few you’ll recognize: Allentown, Bernville, Carlisle, Doylestown, Eagles Mere, Nazareth, Wyomissing, Wernersville, State College, Reading, Philadelphia.

The Pennsylvania State Tree, since 1931, is the Eastern Hemlock, which takes 250-300 years to reach maturity, and they can live some 800 years or more.

Pennsylvania is also noted for its many famous trees, perhaps the most famous tree---the Penn Treaty Elm at Shackamaxon, now Kensington, a neighborhood of Philadelphia. William Penn, in 1683, speaking the Algonquian language, pledged a peace treaty, under the Elm, with Chief Tamanend, of the Lenape Turtle Clan.

Today, the site of the treaty is called Penn Treaty Park, dedicated on October 28, 1893. The Elm tree fell during a storm in 1810, but over its lifetime cuttings were taken and planted. The 7th descendant of this tree was planted at Barclay Beach, Haverford College

According to Scott Wade, a certified arborist, who runs Pennsylvania’s Champion Tree Program, Pennsylvania is home to 9 national champions. His favorite trees are the state champion London Grove white oak (approximately 300 yrs old) at a Quaker Meeting house in Kennett Square. Another of his favorites is a former national champion oak, or Sacred Oak, found in Berks County, Oley Township, estimated to be 500 years old. Legend tell us it became a sacred tree with the Delaware Indians, due to praying there and receiving the help needed. The tree sits in a grove of trees, off Friedensburg Road, but it is on private property and no public access.

I couldn’t resist researching some of the fantastic treehouses found in Pennsylvania, especially the 3 found at Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, west of Philadelphia. The 3 treehouses were built in 2008 and took 4 months to build at a cost of $1 million.

More than 10 feet above the ground is the 589 square-foot Canopy Cathedral inspired by a Norwegian Church. This ornate 2-story treehouse has diamond-shaped windows, plus 2 staircases that lead to a wrap-around balcony.

The 900 square-foot Lookout Loft has 2 viewing platforms, one with a roof, and one without, connected by a walkway (wheelchair accessible). Two huge tulip trees spiral through its roof.

The 255 square-foot Birdhouse, with logs from Alaska, rises 20 feet above ground. It has built-in benches and a sliding barn door.

Christmas tree farms play an important role in supplying the White House, Washington, D.C., with Christmas Trees---inside and outside. National Christmas trees came from Luzerne County in 1976 and York County in 1978. The Blue Room trees came from Crawford County in 1981, Schuylkill County in 2000, Snyder County in 2001,and from the Crystal Spring Tree Farm, Carbon County, had the honor of in 2006, 2010, 2013, and 2014. Buddie’s Nursery, Birdsboro, Berks County, had the honor of supplying the Capitol Christmas tree from 1964 through 1967, when it succumbed to wind damage.

In 1956, the Indiana Christmas Tree Grower’s Association was organized. The association estimates 700,000 trees were cut in Indiana County that year. The county became known as the “Christmas Tree Capitol of the World.”

Each state celebrates Arbor Day when it’s best for their planting season. Pennsylvania celebrates the last Friday in April, which is also a holiday.

I’m sure William Penn would be happy to know Pennsylvanians still love his “greene country.” According to ExplorePAHistory.com, “Trees covered more than 90% of Pennsylvania’s 28,692,480 acres. By 1850, millions of acres had been cleared for our states 128,000 farms…to build homes, fences, cook their food, and heat their homes. Between 1760 and 1895, more than 4 million acres were harvested. By 1900, our state lost more than 60% of its forests.”

By the 19th century, Pennsylvania established forestry departments and policies on preserving and restoring our forests. “By 2000, our state was again covered close to 60% in trees. The Commonwealth owned more than 4 million acres, 2.2 million of which were managaed by the State Bureau of Forests.” (ExplorePAHistory.com).

Today, there are 20 state forests in Pennsylvania, managed by the PA Bureau of Forestry. The Allegheny National Forest is our only national forest of approximately 517,000 (463,000 are forested) acres located in Elk Forest, McKean, and Warren Counties.

I’ll sum up this article with the last phrase from Joyce Kilmer’s “Trees”:

“Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”