The tiny seedling, deceptive at first glance, would grow to be one of the tallest, oldest and rarest Southern pine trees, the prestigious longleaf pine, explained volunteer and scout parent Troy Ettel who led the planting ceremony.
Ettel serves as director of Forest Conservation for the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy and its partner, the Longleaf Alliance, helped donate the planting materials for the Earth Day event, including providing a tree seedling for each Daisy Girl Scout to take home and plant in her own yard.
The girls listened as Ettel provided a mini natural history lesson on the ecology of this threatened tree, and then, one by one, each Daisy Scout took turns filling in the soil and securing the seedling in its new home, a grassy knoll flanking the school’s garden, known as “Wolfie’s Garden.”
Tristina McElreath, chair of the Timber Ridge Garden Committee, thanked the troop for making a commitment to the community and to the next five or six generations.
“Planting this tree causes me to reflect appreciatively on the faculty, staff, donors, and other friends of Timber Ridge Elementary and those who believe in giving back,” McElreath said. “My grandchild’s grandchild may one day draw inspiration from the canopy of this tree.”
Timber Ridge Elementary Principal Tracie Doe and Vice Principal Adam Hill watched the event.
“We are excited that today, on Earth Day, Timber Ridge Girl Scouts are thinking about nature and protecting the Earth for future generations of students,” Doe said.
Girl Scout troop leader Magan Eddings agreed.
“The girls are really taking ownership of this tree — not only are they earning a Scout badge today for ‘using resources wisely,” but as they grow and mature as Timber Ridge students, the tree will be growing and maturing also,” Eddings said.
Longleaf pine forests are native to the Southern United States and stretch from Texas to Virginia. Longleaf pines once covered more than 90 million acres, but after 300 years of intensive timber harvest, agricultural expansion, fire suppression and urban development, less than 3 percent remains. More than 140 plant species can be found in one square kilometer of long- leaf pine forest and with nearly 900 indigenous plant species, the forest is as biologically diverse as tropical rainforests.
“It’s about more than the tree, more than the understory. It’s the entire ecosystem,” said Michael Prevost, former project director with The Nature Conservancy. By a conservative estimate, this region once hosted more than 420,000 acres of longleaf. Only about 50,000 acres now remain.