Right Tree, Right Place

Trees are everywhere, figuratively speaking. Symbols of life, growth and strength, trees permeate poetry and literature throughout human history. Two Oklahoma nonprofit organizations have been working for more than a quarter of a century to ensure that trees are everywhere in the literal world as well.

The Tree Bank Foundation in Edmond is celebrating 25 years of serving Oklahoma through programs that donate trees to public areas throughout the state. Schools, public parks, community buildings and other public common areas have benefited from the services provided by the Tree Bank. Nicki Largent became the executive director of the Tree Bank Foundation in August 2012, taking over for Mary Caffrey, who had served in the position since the nonprofit foundation began in 1987. 

“Our main goal will always be to keep improving Oklahoma, one tree at a time,” Largent says. “As far as numbers of trees, I don’t have a specific number for the future. We’re hoping to be able to continue what we’ve done over the past 25 years.”

What the foundation has done is distribute nearly 200,000 trees across the state. The Tree Bank is also active in educating Oklahomans on the planting and maintenance of the trees it donates to programs like Campus Trees and STOP (Shade Trees On Playgrounds). And it has done so with a staff of one and an army of volunteers.   

“There’s definitely a lot to live up to,” Largent says. “I just want to keep reaching more and more people. There are never enough volunteers.”

Volunteers have also played a major role in the success of Up With Trees, which has been serving a similar role in Tulsa since 1976. The impact of Up With Trees can be seen throughout the city, on street medians and along expressways, in parks and walking trails, nearly everywhere one looks a sign announcing the presence of Up With Trees can be found alongside the trees the organization has planted.

“Our first 30-something years, tree planting was the focus,” explains Anna America, executive director of Up With Trees, “but over the past five years it has become about education.” 

The organization still gets out and plants trees and maintains the landscape, but the folks at Up With Trees are just as likely to be found at the Tulsa Community College garden center teaching Tulsans how to plant and maintain their own trees, or at the Philbrook Museum leading a group of nature lovers through the grounds and talking about the varieties of trees they see.

“One of our main concerns recently has been telling people about what they need to do to care for their trees during the drought we’ve had,” America says. “Sometimes we take trees for granted, but people need to understand the role that trees play, not only in a healthy environment, but in property values and utility costs. If you lose a shade tree from the west or south side of your house, you’ll see it in a big way in your energy bill.”

Both Up With Trees and the Tree Bank continue to make Oklahomans aware of the value of trees in the lives of their communities and environment. For the members and volunteers, it is a labor of love.

“As much as I enjoy helping coordinate our programs, I always like being involved in the planting,” Largent says. “I’m looking forward to getting my hands dirty.”