In South Africa, Arbor Day was first celebrated in 1983. The event captured the imagination of people who recognised the need for raising awareness of the value of trees in our society. As sources of building material, food, medicine, and simple scenic beauty, trees play a vital role in the health and well-being of communities. Many countries celebrate Arbor Day once a year, a day on which trees are planted and emphasis is placed on the importance they play in the circle of life. In South Africa, Arbor Day is celebrated for an entire week.
The Latin word for tree is “arbor”. True to its name, Arbor Week celebrates the preservation and planting of trees. The South African Forestry Industry plants 360 000 trees every working day, more than 90 million trees every year.
During the course of National Arbor Week, South Africans are provided with a better knowledge of trees and how they affect their day-to-day lives. Awareness about the dangers of forest fires is raised and emphasis is placed on the importance of the forestry industry and on trees in general. Trees are planted and landscapes are made greener. Many of the week’s events are organised by the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF). Food and Trees For Africa (FTFA) also take advantage of the week to help people from poorer communities learn how to develop and maintain a food garden. Schools, businesses and organisations are encouraged to participate in community "greening" events to improve the health and beauty of the local environment and propose a green future for South Africa.
The following trees were identified for Arbor Week 2020:
Common Tree 2020: Peltophorum africanum, African wattle, Huilboom
Rare Tree 2020: Salix mucronata Safsaf willow, Kaapse wilger
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown we need trees more than ever. This includes being able to breathe deeply, which trees help us do by absorbing air pollution. Trees can also create a peaceful mind, which we can discover by interacting with nature - even a tree we see out of the window while confined in our homes. This public health crisis has taught us to be more agile and creative in finding ways to celebrate trees and connect with nature. After all, there are many benefits to being around trees, including less stress.
Ways to celebrate Arbor Day in a time of social distancing:
- Hike through a forest
- Participate in online nature learning
- Engage in nature-based crafts
- Order a tree online
During National Arbor Week, let us take to heart the Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”