While students from Boston Public Schools visit the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University for field trips to learn about trees, this Arbor Day we brought our trees to Boston students. In honor of the Arboretum’s 150th anniversary, three trees from the Arboretum’s nurseries were planted with students and teachers at two Boston Public high schools. Organized to teach students about trees and tree care and to beautify their school campuses, the tree plantings also offered an opportunity to foster collaboration between the Arboretum and local schools and introduce students to plant-related careers.

English High School Tree Planting
Horticulturist Rachel Lawlor and Head Arborist John DelRosso (kneeling, center) join Outdoor Educator Ana Maria Caballero (far right) at English High School in Jamaica Plain for a tree planting with students and teachers. Libby Koger

At English High School in Jamaica Plain, an 11th grade class taught by Thomas Hayes helped Arboretum staff plant a Judd cherry tree (Prunus × juddii), an ornamental cultivar introduced by the Arboretum and named for an early propagator. As the tree was planted in a sunny corner of the school’s track and field—where it will shade spectators and fatigued runners—students expressed their excitement to care for the tree in its crucial first year and leave their mark on their alma mater. Arboretum Head Arborist John DelRosso and Gardener Rachel Lawlor emphasized the science of the process, remarking how this tree is a grafted clone of a tree at the Arboretum, and demonstrating how alternating water and soil during planting prevents air pockets and allows roots to acclimate to their new home.

Principal Caitlin Murphy joined students at English High School for this special planting event. Outdoor educator Ana Maria Caballero pointed out that the school’s first principal, George Barrell Emerson, was also integral to the founding of the Arnold Arboretum as one of the signers of the agreement with Harvard that established the institution in 1872. The tree-planting offered a serendipitous union of Emerson’s vision for nature education and increasing educational access for women with the mission and aspirations of the Arboretum.

A second Judd cherry tree was planted at Brighton High School with students in the STRIVE program—Supported Training to Reach Independence through Vocational Experiences. Attended by a large and enthusiastic group, this planting focused on teaching students about the responsibilities of caring for a tree and encouraging a connection between the kids and nature.

Brighton High School Tree Planting
Students in the STRIVE program at Brighton High School assist Arboretum staff in planting a second Judd cherry (Prunus × judii) on their campus. Libby Koger

DelRosso and Lawlor directed the planting on Brighton High School’s terraced front lawn, where a dozen or more mature cherry trees grow and where the Arboretum cherry took its place beside the decaying stump of its predecessor. Students found much joy in the process—from deploying the watering hose to jumping on the shovel like a pogo stick to create the planting hole.

Those who enjoyed planting the cherry tree and were willing to brave the icy wind stayed to plant a second Arboretum tree, a dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides). This tree has a completely different root system than the cherry trees—Lawlor used a knife to slice up the tangled mass of roots, paradoxically tearing at the roots to encourage acclimation and new growth. Since dawn redwoods may reach up to 100 feet in height, hearty roots will help secure it to the earth.

When all three trees had been staked and wrapped in wire fencing to keep out animal pests, the finishing touch was placing a small metal label beside each tree—Planted on 4/28/22 with the Arnold Arboretum. While the students are responsible for the weekly care of these young trees—three gallons per week—Arboretum staff will also check up on the trees periodically to ensure that future classes and generations of students will enjoy them and connect with the Arnold Arboretum—without even leaving their campus.