West Virginia Arbor Day

“He that plants trees loves others beside himself.” – Thomas Fuller

If you love trees –  and who doesn’t – April is your month. The second Friday of the month, April 14, 2023, is West Virginia Arbor Day.

It all began with a newspaper editor, J. Sterling Morton, living in Nebraska in the 1800s. He was concerned about the lack of trees in the Midwest and approached the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture to get involved. Together on April 10, 1872, they celebrated the first Arbor Day by offering prizes to counties and individuals who properly planted the largest number of trees.

It was a success! Over 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on the very first Arbor Day.

Arbor Day is now celebrated in all 50 states. The last Friday in April is the most common date, but some states, like West Virginia, have moved the date to coincide with ideal tree-planting conditions.

Trees are a part of almost any outdoor walk, and in West Virginia, they surround us in the woods and parks of our state. There is nothing like a hike in the woods, but what about visiting an arboretum?

The Mary Price Ratrie Arboretum overlooks the city of Charleston and offers views of the state capitol and Kanawha River. The land, 180 acres with 5 miles of paved road, serves as both a cemetery and park and was acquired by the city in 1869.

The land is now maintained by the City of Charleston and the Friends of Spring Hill Cemetery Park, a nonprofit organization run by volunteers to oversee the Arboretum.  

With over 1400 trees and 100-plus species, there is much to see, but don’t get overwhelmed. There are many ways to explore the park and learn about the trees.

Several hundred trees are labeled with their name and a QR code. Scanning this code with your smartphone gives you instant access to the tree information. Grab a brochure near the entrance and enjoy a self-guided tour. Rather than tackling all the paths in one day, maybe you plan for an hour or so on each visit. Not only is this great exercise but grab a friend and visit while you learn about the various trees.

On this trip to the park, I had a guided tour with Mary Price Ratrie, Arboretum Arborist, and Friends of Spring Hill Board member Christopher Higgins. Lucky me. He knows his trees.

We started with a large Tulip Poplar near the administration building. Even without its leaves, this tree looks familiar – and it should. It is featured in the city of Charleston logo.

There are four champion trees within the Arboretum. This means they are the largest recorded trees of their type in West Virginia. We passed two State ‘Big Trees’ in the Old Circle where many of the City’s earliest families are buried. They included a Sawara Cypress and below the road on the right a Post Oak just below the intersection with Tompkins Lane.

Not all the trees are natives. Look for Acer palmatum- the Japanese Maple; Acer griseum – paperbark maple; and the Cercidiphyllum japonicum- Kastsura tree. A recently planted ‘Magnolia Loop’ features newer deciduous flowering cultivars.

While touring Chris pointed to young trees that had recently (within 5 or 6 years) been planted. Many of these trees had wire cages and plastic buckets surrounding them. The caging protects the young trees from deer, not only nibbling on the tender branches but rubbing their antlers on the branches. Both will damage a young tree.

The plastic buckets at the base are for water control. The buckets collect rainwater and let it slowly seep into the tree roots. They can also be used for watering during periods of drought.

When you are in the Arboretum, you are also in a cemetery. The land is beautiful, and it is no surprise that families have chosen this area as a resting place for years. The earliest recorded burial was in 1828. Some markers are simple tombstones, while others are tall obelisks, familiar shapes, and even small mausoleums. The names of many families are familiar and include governors, mayors, and prominent members of our communities.

A butterfly garden is one of the newest additions and a work in progress. It will be filled with plants to attract pollinators and such to continue the health of the garden.

In recognition of Arbor Day, The City of Charleston in collaboration with the Municipal Beautification Commission and Mary C. Snow Elementary School will be hosting a tree planting at the school on Friday at 12:30pm on Friday, April 14, 2023.   

Arbor Day Activities at Mary Price Ratrie Arboretum, located at Spring Hill Cemetery, 1555 Farnsworth Drive, Charleston, WV. 

9.30 am Family Story, activity and tree planting. Aimed at pre-schoolers but open to all.  

Location: Administration Building.

10.30 am Slideshow, ‘Trees of Spring Hill.’A discussion of some of the notable trees that are part of the Mary Price Ratrie Arboretum.

 Location: Administration Building Conference Room. Space is limited. Please register in advance: 304.348.8010

1:30 – 3.30 pm Work Party, Friends of Spring Hill Cemetery and Park, and the Mary Price Ratrie Arboretum. 

Help plant native trees and shrubs near the Monarch Butterfly Way Station. Plants selected are host plants, as well as food sources for butterflies and bees. Bring gloves and suitable footwear for possibly wet ground.  

Location: Western Entrance, Sunset Drive

Can’t make it to the Arbor Day events – then first of the month Saturday Saunter form 9 -10:30am are walks in different parts of the Cemetery that highlight interesting trees and park history.

Programs are presented by Mary Price Ratrie Arboretum Arborist Christopher Higgins and Friends of Spring Hill Cemetery Park and Arboretum. All Programs are free, but donations or memberships to ‘Friends’ can be made. Friends of Spring Hill Cemetery and Park and Arboretum is a 501 © 3 organization that was founded in 2001. Friends work with the City of Charleston to maintain structures, beautify with plantings, and conduct tours and educational programs of the Cemetery and Arboretum.