While thousands of people will plant new trees in honor of Arbor Day this month on April 25, two nature lovers are now busy identifying more than 100 trees dotting the landscape of the 110-acre Charlestown retirement community campus in Catonsville, MD.
Arborist Harper Griswold and horticulturist Jim Butler, who both live at the community, have teamed up with Charlestown’s in-house TV studio, WCTV Channel 972, to produce an educational video highlighting the different species of trees found on the park-like campus.
“Jim and I have taught classes for ELLIC (Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown) about the trees that are found here on campus,” said Harper, who once owned his own tree business in El Paso, TX. “We would host a lecture and then a walking tour of the campus that explained the different types of trees and some of their history. We thought a video would also be a good way to share our knowledge with everyone who lives here in the community.”
Harper and Jim, along with WCTV Television Producer Joshua Cochran, are trekking through the community locating, identifying, and creating a catalog of dozens of different trees.
“Joshua follows us with the camera as we describe the different species’ characteristics and history,” said Jim, a retired park planner for Baltimore County Recreation and Parks Department.
So far, the pair has identified 150 different trees—some native and many imported.
“We have some very interesting trees here on campus,” said Harper. “The Ginkgo tree, for example, is a prehistoric tree. The Paulownia tree, which has purple flowers, is an import from China. What’s interesting about the Paulownia is the seed pods were once used for packing fine China to be shipped overseas. That’s how the seeds first arrived here in America. Once people discovered the beautiful purple flowers the tree produces, they began planting them.”
Although beautiful, Harper said bringing imported trees and plants like the Paulowina can have unintended consequences.
“The Paulownia tree is an invasive species and overshadows native trees in the community which can prevent the native trees from thriving,” said Harper.
Harper said keeping up with other invasive plants, like English Ivy, is a constant challenge for Charlestown volunteers who help maintain the trees along the half-mile-long nature trail hidden near the community’s Cross Creek Clubhouse.
“Over time, the ivy forms a canopy over the foliage and cuts off the sunlight, suffocating the trees. So we are constantly going down and cutting these vines off. I guess you could call it forest management,” said Harper.
Aside from surveying trees, Harper and Jim also share their expertise as members of the Charlestown grounds committee, which monitors both the natural and landscaped outdoor campus environment.
While Charlestown’s grounds department handles all the heavy outdoor work like wood chipping the nature trail, removing hazardous trees or limbs, rotating the flower beds to reflect the seasons, weed control, and leaf removal, volunteers like Harper and Jim play an important role in the upkeep of the expansive community.
“We have a resident-run nature trail committee that helps maintain our walking trail, plus community members who add color to the landscape by growing their own flowers and vegetables in the resident community garden area,” said Grounds Supervisor Patricia Watsic.
Arbor Day was first observed in Nebraska in 1872. That state is now home to one of the world's largest forests planted by people—more than 200,000 acres of trees.
Trees can induce rainfall by cooling the land and transpiring water into the sky from their leaves. An acre of maple trees can put as much as 20,000 gallons of water into the air each day.
The most massive plant on Earth is the giant sequoia native to Sierra Nevada and California. It averages 230 to 280 feet tall and 16 to 23 feet in diameter.
Caption for attached photo: Horticulturist Jim Butler (left) and arborist Harper Griswold are producing a documentary about the different trees found on Charlestown’s 110-acre campus in Catonsville, MD (photo courtesy WCTV).