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Donald McInnes is our guest writer this month. He is a horticulturist for the Clemson Extension Service, as well as a landscaping and gardening coach and the Chair of the Columbia S.C. Tree and Appearance Commission.

Donald McInnes, Ph.D.
Photographs Anne K Moore

Viewers (and readers) of Garden Smart have more appreciation of trees than the average bear. But, if their behavior (tree topping, the many ways root systems are disrespected, etc.) is any indication, the same cannot be said of the general public.

• Trees do so many good things for us:
• They cool our surroundings with their shade and transpiration.
• They help reduce storm water run-off and erosion.
• They sequester carbon from the atmosphere as they grow.
• They provide us with food, building materials, paper and other products.
• They reduce noise and air pollution.
• They provide wildlife with food and shelter.
• They moderate wind.
• They increase real estate values.
And our psyches improve just by looking at them.

How do we increase public awareness and appreciation of the value of trees? That’s a question members of the Columbia (SC) Tree and Appearance Commission tackle frequently in trying to fulfill their mission—along with some oversight and advisory duties, the Commission is charged with educating the residents of Columbia on the value, preservation and care of the city’s urban forest.

One way to educate the public is to start with the children. Each year the Tree and Appearance Commission, along with Columbia’s Forestry and Beautification Division, sponsors an Arbor Day event at an elementary school, bringing in a dynamic speaker, Tim Womick, to teach the students the value of trees. In addition, the students help plant several trees on the school grounds. Each year the event is hosted by a different school, and we are only a couple of years away from giving a turn to all of the elementary schools within the city limits.

A few years ago, when the Tree and Appearance Commission was seeking ways to publicize the value of trees, one of its members came across a calendar of the “Treasured Trees” of Asheville, NC. Each year Asheville’s GreenWorks organization recognizes the largest, oldest, rarest and prettiest trees of those nominated. Knowing a good idea when we came across it, we quickly adopted this concept for Columbia, slightly modifying the criteria. Each year we solicit nominations for trees that are significant because of their superior size, association with historical events, aesthetic or sentimental value, scarcity, or just because they are great trees to climb, sit under, or from which to swing.

In 2005, the first year of our Treasured Trees program, with some helpful publicity from our local daily paper, The State, we got a few dozen nominations. With some organizational help from Forestry and Beautification staff and a half dozen volunteer jurors, six trees and one grove of trees (selected because their plurality adds to their significance) were selected for recognition as Treasured Trees. Dr. John Nelson of the University of South Carolina Herbarium kindly wrote short articles on the significance of each winner that were published in The State each week leading up to South Carolina’s Arbor Day. (In SC, Arbor Day is celebrated the first Friday of December, a great time to plant trees for those of us who live in mild climates.) On Arbor Day the owners were presented with certificates at a ceremony on the grounds of the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion, followed by a reception hosted by the Columbia Garden Club inside the Governor’s Mansion.

We are in our eighth year now, having just released our call for nominations for 2012 Treasured Trees. Since 2005, we have recognized nearly a hundred trees and a handful of tree groves. These have included state and national champions, a maple started from a seed brought back from France by a WWII veteran, and trees planted to commemorate births and weddings. Trees known to predate the Civil War, trees on the Statehouse grounds, and trees in the gardens of historic houses have also been recognized. Not all of Columbia’s Treasured Trees are beautiful or ancient or historically significant, but all are appreciated, even loved by their owners and by the people that nominated them. And we hope the Treasured Trees designation garners them the attention they deserve and affords them better stewardship and long-term preservation.

More information on Columbia’s Treasured Trees and other programs of the Columbia Tree and Appearance Commission can be found at


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