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The Flower Show

Reversing Philly’s Decreasing Tree Canopy

December 09, 2019

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reversing phillys decreasiing tree canopy

As President of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), I believe that people cultivating plants can transform our region’s health and wellbeing. PHS has trained, supported, and partnered with 5,000 volunteer Tree Tenders to plant 14,000 trees over the last decade. But we are still falling short.

Based on a recent study released by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation there was a 6% decrease in Philadelphia’s Tree Canopy from 2008 to 2018. Trees make neighborhoods healthier and safer. The loss of any canopy sets back the region’s health. We must come together to radically scale up tree planting efforts. PHS invites you to volunteer your time and money to make this happen.

The tree canopy, or area of land shaded by trees, in Philadelphia and the region is a precious commodity – trees clean and cool the air, minimize stormwater runoff, brighten a concrete sidewalk, and provide a natural habitat for animals. Studies show that trees and green space are associated with decreases in violent crime, increase people’s sense of wellbeing, and decrease stress. Neighbors coming together to plant and care for trees through PHS’s Tree Tenders program build and nurture strong community connections. The goal for a healthy tree canopy in Philadelphia is 30% coverage. This is a long game – we must plant, nurture, and protect trees now to provide canopy in the future. Building the tree canopy is a team sport that includes government, businesses, non-profits, volunteers, and anyone who wants to help.

We must put special focus on neighborhoods with the lowest tree canopy, some as low as 2.5%. These areas have been identified by PHS as “hot zone” priority neighborhoods and have the highest average temperatures and serious environmental justice concerns. PHS is working with residents and leaders in these neighborhoods to build support for tree planting and engage volunteers in planting and caring for trees.

Tree Tenders is a thriving, growing part of PHS. Each year, we train new volunteers, form new neighborhood groups, and plant more trees. Just a few weeks ago, PHS and its Tree Tender network planted over 900 trees across the region in a single weekend. Please visit our website at phsonline.org and sign up to attend an upcoming Tree Tender training or volunteer to participate in a planting weekend in your neighborhood. 

PHS is committed to partnering with Parks and Recreation, the U.S. Forest Service, and other partners to chart a path forward to meet and sustain our city’s tree canopy at the 30% goal but we need your time and support.

Our Tree Tenders also need more funding. PHS cannot currently fulfill all the requests that come in for more trees as the demand from our neighbors currently exceeds the availability. While we are supported by partners from the public and private sectors, individual philanthropy is a critical and growing source of support – please consider making a gift to PHS today to support Tree Tenders.

At PHS, we believe in “Gardening for the Greater Good.” Planting just one tree in your neighborhood or donating to PHS Tree Tenders is a good start. Growing the tree canopy is a process but one we are committed to. Help PHS make a difference today for a tree-filled tomorrow.

Matt Rader is president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. For more information and to volunteer with our Tree Tenders visit PHSonline.org.