[As We Tree It]

Reasons to celebrate Arbor Day even in drought-stricken Las Vegas

Tall trees and bushes provide shade from the sun along the many trails scattered throughout Pittman Wash.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

In the 1800s, Nebraska politician and newspaper editor J. Sterling Morton was such a zealous tree lover that he used his position with the paper to promote tree planting, calling it “the battle against the treeless prairies.” With a prize going to the most prolific planter, a reported 1 million trees were put in the soil that year, and Arbor Day became a thing. Today, the nationwide observance of trees teaches children that they serve as “nature’s lungs,” stabilize the soil and de-stress the mind.

But in a drought-stricken desert, what exactly does Arbor Day mean? With daunting soil and so many “just passing through” types (some with water-guzzling lawns), the needle on the environmental respect-o-meter hiccups at best. And even though Arbor Day is the last Friday of April—past planting season for certain trees—Angela O’Callaghan, social horticulture specialist and associate professor for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, says a little research can go a long way. “Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean it will survive.”

There are the obvious choices, she says: the resourceful mesquite tree, with roots that can grow 80 feet down into the soil, and the desert willow.

For those who care less about the environment, there’s a rationale that real estate professionals and landscapers will sing in unison on: Trees raise the value of your home. Also, O’Callaghan says, a tree shading the house will lower the temperature a few degrees, cutting down the power bill.

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