Forest Digest – Week of March 28, 2016

by American Forests

Elements of ForestsFind out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest! Each article corresponds to one of the elements —Earth, air, fire and water — in our “Elements of Forests” Earth Month campaign and why #WeNeedForests.

Share your own stories with us and join our Earth Month conversation by using the hashtag #WeNeedForests on social media.


Earth Month 2016: The Elements of Forests

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

Forest Canopy

Credit: Chuck Fazio, our artist-in-Residence.

There are four elements believed by many cultures to be fundamental to life: earth, air, fire and water. Though these four fundamental elements have not changed — they are constantly evolving, building and shaping the environment around us, including our world’s forests. Without a sufficient supply of water, our forests wouldn’t have the sustenance to grow. Without clean air, our forests can’t breathe. Without nutritious earth, our forests would never be able to take root. And, even without fire, many of our forests don’t have a chance at rebirth.

But, this Earth Month (the best month of the year), American Forests will not only be looking at what the elements do for our forests and the wildlife that call them home, but also what forest ecosystems contribute to the elements, to our earth and to our individual health via the elements. Without forests, millions of people wouldn’t have access to palatable drinking water. Without forests, Earth’s largest carbon sink, our air wouldn’t be nearly as clean. Without forests, the earth would erode. And, without the plant matter from forests, fire can’t contribute to the nutrition of the soil.

Air and forests fact graphic

With these facts in mind, we’ve created a hashtag that we’ll be using on all of our social media platforms this month in order to promote the importance of our forests and all that they do for us: #WeNeedForests.

Each week during Earth Month, we will be focusing on one of the four elements and how both that element, and forests, benefit from one another (and ultimately benefit you as well). We’ll be sharing some fun and surprising statistics, talking about notable restoration projects and posting educational blog posts about each element. You can join in on the conversation by following us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and by checking out our Loose Leaf blog.

We’d also love if you shared with us your favorite forest photos, just use the hashtag #WeNeedForests!

Man looking up giant sequoias

Credit: Yinghai Lu.

Another way to get involved this Earth Month is by helping us plant trees. Each year, we lose between 46,000 and 58,000 square miles of forest — which is equivalent to about 48 football fields every minute. Forests can use all the help they can get, and you can do your part by donating to American Forests to help us plant trees and restore ecosystems!

To learn more about our Earth Month campaign, visit our Elements of Forests homepage.


Bees and Cherry Blossoms in D.C.: A Mutually Beneficial Relationship

by American Forests

By Shandra FurtadoCommunications Intern

Tidal Basin

Credit: ehpien-via-Flickr.

The annual cherry blossoms attract a very important group of visitors to the D.C. area each spring. No, these guests are not foreign diplomats or government officials, but instead a group that has more control of global food production than most: the local honeybee.

These little guys have no remorse when it comes to invading personal space, stealing stealthy sips of smoothies and scaring children. Although many see them as a nuisance, they are far from that. Bees play an integral role in the bloom of our beloved cherry blossoms and are vital for urban ecosystems to thrive.

When a bee collects nectar from a flower, pollen on the stamen — the male reproductive part of the flower — sticks to tiny hairs on the bee’s body. When the bee visits another flower, that pollen is rubbed off on the female reproductive organ of the flower, the stigma. From this process fertilization is possible, and seeds and fruits can develop from the flower.

Although the cherry blossoms do not produce fruits, bees are still an important factor in their pollination. Bees also help to pollinate local gardens and plants, contributing to the flowers and greenery we enjoy in city parks and squares during the warmer months.

Urban beekeeping

Credit: Despi-Ross-via-Flickr.

Since beekeeping in D.C. has been legalized, the influx of new local beekeeping groups has been incredibly beneficial to the local environment.

Bee hives can be found at several government agencies as well as in rooftop gardens in Georgetown and at The George Washington University.

The growing bee population in D.C. is a step forward after years of bees suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that wipes out entire bee colonies for unknown reasons. CCD occurs when the worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind only the queen, and usually honey and immature bees are still present, according to the USDA.

It’s speculated that pesticides play a large role in CCD, especially those containing neonicotinoids, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation[1]. Neonicotinoids are especially dangerous to bees because they can be absorbed into plant tissue, making them present in pollen and nectar. Chronic exposure to these chemicals can harm bees’ natural foraging behavior and increases worker bee mortality.

A study done in England last year[2] found there to be a higher bee diversity in urban and suburban areas. Another study done in 2007[3] actually found that bee populations in New Jersey were higher in urban areas than in natural forests, suggesting that mild anthropogenic disturbance can benefit many bee species.

With the right planning, bees and humans can sustain a mutually beneficial relationship in urban areas. Noah Wilson-Rich, founder of Best Bees Company, said in a TEDxBoston talk[4] that urban bees actually have a higher winter survival rate than their rural counterparts.

Bee on cherry blossom

Credit: KSTZA via Flickr.

According to Wilson-Rich, not only do bees survive better in cities, but on average produce a larger amount of honey. “[They] are going to all of the local community gardens and making delicious, healthy honey that just taste like the flowers in our city,” he said.

There are many possible reasons bees thrive in city environments. There may be fewer pesticides in urban environments, cities are warmer during the winter and human gardening activities bring a wider array of flower species into the area for bees to collect nectar from.

The biggest problem bees’ face in an urban environment — and possibly the easiest to fix — is social aversion from their human neighbors. Bees have a nasty reputation of being dangerous and scary, which is the reason urban beekeeping has been banned for so long in many cities. But, bees are not naturally aggressive creatures and only will sting if provoked.

This is the year to change our attitudes to embrace and welcome the company of the bee community at the tidal basin. If we’re lucky, our VIP guests may just leave us with a delicious cherry blossom-honey parting gift.

 

[1] http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Are-Neonicotinoids-Killing-Bees_Xerces-Society1.pdf

[2] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10841-015-9769-2/fulltext.html#CR78

[3] http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-ecolsys-102710-145042

[4] http://www.ted.com/talks/noah_wilson_rich_every_city_needs_healthy_honey_bees#t-79609


Forest Digest – Week of March 21, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!

Rocky Mountains.

Rocky Mountains. Credit: Yinghai Lu.


Forest-Friendly NCAA Mascots

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

In honor of March Madness consuming the minds and time of sports fans across the country, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite NCAA mascots that have a flair for forests!

The Stanford Cardinal

A deceiving name, Stanford University’s mascot isn’t actually a cardinal — it’s a tree! Well, the Stanford Tree is not the University’s official mascot (it doesn’t have an official one), but it is the mascot for the Stanford Band. The tree costume is redesigned each year and has been called one of America’s most bizarre mascots.

It is named after El Palo Alto, which is a landmark redwood and California Historical Landmark No. 2. It is currently 110 feet in height and was determined to be 1,015 years old in 1955.

Redwoods in California.

Redwoods in California.

The Cal Golden Bears

The California Golden Bear has been a symbol for the State of California since the raising of the first bear flag in 1846, during what was known as the “Bear Flag Revolt.” When the University of California – Berkley Track and Field team travelled to the east coast for a meet they brought a blue banner with a large golden bear and ended up winning. They then decided their mascot would become the “Golden bear.”

Their official mascot now is Oski the bear, named after the “Oski Yell,” which was recited at almost every football and basketball game in the early 1900s.

Unfortunately, the California grizzly bear, which was designated the official state animal of California in 1953, had actually gone extinct due to overhunting 30 years prior. Today, only about 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48 states of the U.S.

Oski

Oski. Credit: By BrokenSphere via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State University’s official mascot is named Brutus Buckeye, whose head is meant to resemble an Ohio Buckeye nut. Brutus made his first appearance in 1965 after students convinced their athletic council that they needed a mascot. The buckeye was selected as the mascot because of its status of the official state tree of Ohio.

The Ohio buckeye is a slow-growing, round-headed tree that grows up to 50 feet high. Large, showy, upright flower clusters appear in early June. The flowers are creamy yellow and lack fragrance. Fruits become conspicuous on the tree in late summer and fall. Their husks have thick, knobby spines. Usually a single, rounded, shiny brown seed is produced in each fruit.

Brutus Buckeye.

Brutus Buckeye.

Oregon State Beavers

Benny Beaver is the official mascot of Oregon State University. In 1916 the school yearbook was named “The Beaver” and the name of the animal became associated with the school. The beaver mascot’s name, “Benny,” was officially adopted in 1945.

The university had two failed attempts to maintain a live beaver mascot, including Bevo Beaver, which was rescued from Mary’s River in 1921, and later stolen, and Billy Beaver who was made mascot in 1935, and later fell ill and died.

Beavers are primarily nocturnal, large, semiaquatic rodents — known for their natural trait of building dams on rivers and streams. They build their homes in the resulting pond. They use their powerful front teeth to cut trees and plants that they use for building and for food.

Benny Beaver.

Benny Beaver. Credit: No machine-readable author provided. VegaDark assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

University of Arizona Wildcats (and Kentucky, Weber State and Villanova)

Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat are the official mascots of the University of Arizona. The school’s first mascot, “Rufus Arizona” was a live desert bobcat named after the U-of-A president Rufus von KleinSmid. The practice of using live mascots was discontinued in the 1960s, but Rufus came on the scene in 1959. Wilma joined him in 1986, and they were “married.”

Other NCAA basketball teams that also have wildcats as their mascot include the University of Kentucky, Weber State University and Villanova University.

There are three recognized North American wildcats — the Cougar (or Mountain Lion or Puma), which ranges from the Yukon down the western part of the continent to the tip of South America. The Bobcat, which roams throughout much of North America and adapts well to such diverse habitats as forests, swamps, deserts and even suburban areas. In southern Texas there exists a small population of Ocelots.

Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat.

Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat. Credit: By Raquel Baranow via Wikimedia Commons.

Temple University Owls

Stella, Temple University’s live mascot, is a great horned owl and was brought to the school in 2013. According to Temple’s website, “during home games, Stella can be found cheering on the sidelines of Lincoln Financial Field alongside Temple’s official mascot, Hooter.”

The owl has been the symbol and mascot for Temple University since its founding in the 1880s. Temple was actually the first school in the United States to adopt the owl as its symbol or mascot. The owl, a nocturnal hunter, was initially adopted as a symbol because Temple University began as a night school for young people of limited means. Russel Conwell, Temple University’s founder, encouraged his students with the remark: “The owl of the night makes the eagle of the day.”

Owls live in a variety of habitats, including coniferous forests, mountains, deserts and plains. The snowy owl lives in the cold tundra of the north. They hunt mostly small mammals, insects and other birds. They are found in all regions of the Earth except Antarctica and some remote islands.

Stella

Stella. Credit: By Danny Karwoski via Wikimedia Commons.

Have another favorite? Share it with us in the comments! Plus, learn all about our OWN March Madness tournament, Big Tree Madness.


“May the Forest Be with You” (And Why It Matters)

by American Forests

By Julie Yamamoto, Content Marketing Lead, PMP Communications, IBM Center for Applied Insights

The t-shirt Julie received as a gift (Image credit: Computer Gear)

The t-shirt Julie received as a gift (Image credit: Computer Gear)

My husband recently gave me a t-shirt that says “May the forest be with you!” For any “Star Wars” fans out there, you probably know this is a spinoff of the famous greeting “may the force be with you” that Jedi knights say to one another when facing danger. Ironically, this phrase is actually a very appropriate greeting for our planet earth, which is facing grave danger from the threat of deforestation and climate change.

I started to think about these twin threats seriously when I ran across an excellent American Forests article by Tyler Williams a few years ago about the decline of the aspen tree in a changing climate. As Williams pointed out, the aspen tree is one of a select group of trees known as “circumglobal super species” because of their ability to span continents in similar forms. In fact, the aspen is one of the most adaptable tree species and is the most widely distributed tree in North America. Moreover, a famous 108-acre stand of aspens in Utah called ‘Pando’ is known to be both the largest and longest-lived organisms on earth. Yet, like the Jedi knights, the aspens (including Pando) are dying out, succumbing to the dark forces of global warming, drought, insects and disease.

Deforestation and Global Warming

Climate scientists around the world agree that 2015 was the hottest year on record since record keeping began in 1880, and the 10 warmest years have come in the past 12 years. Even worse, the planet had its biggest temperature leap in modern history just last month, a fact that did not escape the attention of several influential climate scientists, such as Gavin Schmidt, who directs NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

I believe that deforestation and global warming are inextricably linked with disastrous long-term effects. Scientists generally agree that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are a major cause of global warming, and deforestation is said to account for up to one-fifth of global GHG emissions directly. In their natural state, forests act as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that one hectare of forest can absorb 10-20 tons of carbon dioxide (or 4-8 tons per acre) per year. To put this in more relevant terms, one acre of forest can absorb enough carbon dioxide over one year to equal the amount produced by a car driven 26,000 miles. However, cutting forests down not only neutralizes this positive effect, it also releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that tropical deforestation releases between 1.5 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

However, if we were to take into account all of the reasons why trees are cut down in support of human activity (e.g. agriculture, fuel production, paper/pulp/wood industries, urbanization and economic development), cutting trees down could actually account for up to 50-75 percent of GHG emissions. For poor countries, in particular, the near-term economic gain of cutting their forests down is valued over conservation to avoid long-term costs in the future.

Consider these statistics about the loss of our forests:

  • Rainforests cover 2 percent of the earth’s surface but are home to 50 percent of all plants and animals and supply 75 percent of our planet’s fresh water.  Yet, more than half of the world’s rainforests have already been lost.
  • Between 18 million to 32 million acres of forest are lost each year (or 36 football fields per minute).

The immediate consequences of this rapid deforestation and global warming are fairly obvious. Ongoing warmer temperatures bring heat waves, drought, glacier ice melting, changing weather patterns, rising global sea levels and changes in animal migration and vegetation growth patterns. The longer-term impacts are less obvious:

  1. Increased risk of natural disasters such as wildfires, flooding, landslides.
  2. Increased desertification, particularly in arid regions of the world, further exacerbating global warming trends.
  3. Compromised crop productions leading to disruption of food supply chains
  4. Decreased biodiversity impacting both plant and animal life. World wildlife populations have been halved in the past 40 years, and an estimated 1,000 known species of wildlife have gone extinct in the past 500 years. However, the extinction rate for unknown species could be as high as 10,000 per year.
  5. Increased health risks ranging from asthma and allergies to the spread of disease.
  6. Significant economic impact that could lead to a 23 percent lower global GDP per capita by 2100, leaving up to 77 percent of countries poorer than they are today.
  7. Global net mitigation costs are projected to rise by 40 percent on average for every decade of delay.
Change in national GDP per capita in 2100 under business-as-usual warming (RCP8.5) relative to projection using constant 1980–2010 average temperatures. Source: The Guardian

Change in national GDP per capita in 2100 under business-as-usual warming (RCP8.5) relative to projection using constant 1980–2010 average temperatures. Source: The Guardian

Three Ways Insights and Technology Can Help

Because the problem of global warming is so large and complex, there is no simple solution. However, given that greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause, reducing the planet’s carbon footprint is a good place to start. Like enterprises, the scientists and agencies charged with protecting our planet are faced with challenges of numerous and variable data sources, incomplete data and the ongoing task of harnessing enormous volumes of data to make better decisions.

Here are three ways analytical insights and technology can help:

1. Data leadership to help shape global economic policies

Governments and organizations are beginning to put economic incentives and penalties in place to help slow deforestation and global GHG emissions. For example, REDD+ is an international incentive strategy where tropical nations would reduce deforestation and be compensated by wealthy nations for any resulting economic loss. Carbon taxes, such as the proposed US Federal Carbon tax, and environmental tariffs are on the other side of the spectrum.

However, designing and implementing economic policies that will have a measurable impact is complex due to the number of factors and data sources involved. For example, will the policy put in place have the intended effect if another economic incentive counteracts it? Which data is the right data to consider for shaping strategy and policy decisions? What technology and tools should be used?

As global economies continue to grow more interconnected and interdependent, where a tree being cut down in the Amazon could have economic repercussions in Alaska, governments are going to need strong data leaders on their team with the ability to mobilize their organizations around the right data-driven decisions and strategy.

2. Cognitive computing to help predict deforestation and stop global warming

Solving big problems requires a lot of brainpower, perhaps more than we have ever had before. Global warming, for example, is an enormous data problem with many overlapping and changing data sources such as different industries, economic development, crime, urbanization, energy use, agricultural activity, waste and pollution. There are also cause and effect patterns that need to be discovered to enable decision makers to focus on the right mitigation areas.

That’s where cognitive computing comes in, allowing us to learn and discover insights from large data sets to solve grand challenges like healthcare, education and water and sanitation in Africa. What if this deep thinking ability were applied to a big problem like global warming by examining one of its chief sources – deforestation? Global Forest Watch aims to do just that by combining satellite imagery, crowd-sourcing and predictive data learning and artificial intelligence to predict deforestation before it happens. Just like businesses that are being transformed by machine learning and cognitive computing, governments and non-governmental organizations in charge of forest lands will be able to overcome big challenges such as inconsistent data sources and definitions and lack of data transparency to uncover insights that were previously difficult to pinpoint and manage.

3. IoT smart devices to help stop crime and rev up smarter energy

Prediction is only half the battle — governments must also be able to enforce conservation policies and prevent crime. However, that can be costly for countries with large forest regions to manage, especially since loggers are devising new tactics to avoid satellite detection. That’s where smart drones flying over large swaths of forest could help prevent crime before it happens. These drones would need to be smart devices that rangers could manage remotely to monitor and track illegal activity. This type of connected smart drone system could enable fewer rangers to manage larger areas of forestland more effectively.

As governments become more successful in pulling all these factors together into stronger policies in support of conservation, it will accelerate the transformation that the energy and utilities industry is already facing. Fossil fuels currently provide about 85 percent of all energy use worldwide, but these traditional energy sources will only last another 50-100 years. Phasing out fossil fuels (a significant source of both deforestation and GHG emissions) quickly and moving toward renewable energy sources such as solar and wind would be a big step in the right direction.

Fossil fuels are also rapidly losing their cost advantage, and the share of renewable energy in global power generation is expected to rise to more than 26 percent by 2020. One of the biggest barriers, however, is the investment needed to replace aging infrastructure with new power plants. Building Internet of Things (IoT) intelligence into the new power plant designs, such as smart grids and smart meters, can help utilities recuperate those investments faster with improved operational performance, reduced costs, lower supply chain risks and real-time asset monitoring and predictive maintenance for fewer outages over time.

Can tech save trees?

Is it possible?

Even focusing on only one of the sources (deforestation) of a major global problem (climate change) is a massive challenge with multiple layers of interconnection, data sets, relationships and groups that play out across the world. Shifting policy makers towards making the right data-driven decisions for our planet’s future will depend on strong data leadership, backed by cognitive computing, with the ability to learn what patterns to look for.

Putting intelligent networks of connected smart devices in place to help implement, monitor and enforce these policies will also be key. A smart network of that scale that can continually help detect and prevent problems before they happen may also take computing power beyond what is available today. Quantum computers could provide the horsepower needed to bring the race to the finish line. Quantum computers promise exponentially more speed and power than what is attainable by traditional computers today, and they have the potential to impact problems on a global scale.

Want to be part of the solution and help save the forests (and our planet)?

IBM has pledged $5 million in prizes to the three teams that use cognitive computing to make the biggest breakthroughs on some of the world’s biggest challenges.So, why not go for the prize while saving our planet at the same time?If you do, drop me a comment @jyam6 on Twitter – would love to hear about it!

Or, help by planting trees through American Forests!


International Day of Forests 2016: The Importance of Forests and Water

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

A holiday is a day of recognition, reverence and, of course, celebration. March 21 is the day for recognizing the importance of forests and all that they provide us with, from the clean air we breathe to the perspective we gain when standing next to a towering, ancient tree.

River in forest

The United Nations General Assembly (UN) declared this annual holiday on December 21, 2012 to raise awareness of the importance of forests to people. Forests provide for 1.6 billion people who depend on them for their livelihoods, medicine, fuel and food. The benefits they provide are too endless to list — they are one of the largest carbon sinks (anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases). They prevent soil erosion and preserve the integrity of topsoil, and being in the presence of trees has even proven to promote healing and calmness in people.

Boating in water through forest.

To celebrate International Day of Forests, the UN encourages all Member States to “organize activities relating to all types of forests. Activities expected to take place on the International Day include tree-planting and other community-level events, and national celebrations including art, photo and film as well as social media outreach.” The UN sees the day as a chance to communicate the vital role that forests play in some of the toughest issues we face today such as poverty eradication, environmental sustainability and food security.

Each year, a theme is chosen for the day. This year’s theme is Forests and Water and emphasizes the role that forests play in cleaning our water. About one-third of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water from forested protected areas, and forested watershed and wetlands supply 75 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater. Trees also slow water runoff through their leaves and absorb polluted water through their roots, allowing pollution to be filtered naturally and improving quality in rivers and streams.

Riverbend

Credit: Chuck Fazio.

To learn more about forests and role they play in cleaning water, visit our Forests and Water critical issues page.

Consider celebrating International Day of Forests this year by planting tree in forests across the world. To learn more, visit our Plant Trees page.


Forest Digest – Week of March 14, 2016

by American Forests

Find out the latest in forestry news in this week’s Forest Digest!


The History behind D.C.’s Cherry Blossoms

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

In anticipation of this year’s quickly approaching cherry blossom festival in our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., let’s take a look at a brief history of how these iconic trees made it here to the States and what we can expect from this year’s festival.

Looking back in time at the origins of cherry blossom festivals, the Japanese have been putting on celebrations for the symbolic blossoms for thousands of years, called hanami. In Japan, the cherry blossom, or sakura, symbolizes the cycle of life, death and rebirth. They have been used as symbols for everything from predicting successful harvests of rice to giving the World War II kamikaze pilots courage for their one-way missions.

Chiran high school girls are waving farewell with cherry blossom branches to a taking-off kamikaze pilot.

Chiran high school girls are waving farewell with cherry blossom branches to a taking-off kamikaze pilot. Credit: Hayakawa (早川) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

It wasn’t until 1910, that 2,000 cherry trees were donated to Washington, D.C. in the name of the city of Tokyo and planted along the Potomac River. Unfortunately, those trees were found by arborists to be infested with bugs and nematodes and were ordered to be burned to prevent an infestation and protect American growers.

Trucks near Cherry blossom trees, Washington, D.C., 1940.

Trucks near Cherry blossom trees, Washington, D.C., 1940. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Fortunately, a second, larger donation of 12 varieties of 3,020 trees made its way to Washington in 1912, the most common variety being Somei-Yoshino. Besides the 1,800 Somei-Yoshino trees, the second most abundant is Kwan-zan and followed by Ichiyo. The Somei-Yoshino variety of cherry blossom tree was cultivated during the Edo Period in Tokyo and is by far the most numerous cherry tree in Japan. Somei Yoshino trees come with slightly pink — almost white — 5-petaled blossoms. The Kwan-zan is known for its stunning pink color and double flower. The Ichiyo has about 20 light pink petals per blossom. It is among the most common late flowering cherry varieties encountered in Japan’s parks and gardens.

Somei-Yoshino cherry blossoms.

Somei-Yoshino cherry blossoms. Credit: Takashi .M via Flickr.

This gift of trees from Japan was meant to honor the burgeoning relationship between the two nations and to symbolize the renewal of spring and the ephemeral nature of life. The first cherry blossom festival took place in 1935, but an interruption in the annual celebrations soon ensued in 1941, when four cherry trees were cut down shortly after the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. Officials started to refer to the trees as “Oriental” trees to prevent future incidents. Today, people throughout the country, and even those abroad, travel to Washington to catch a glimpse of the beautiful blossoms, which only last for about four to ten days.

Cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin.

Cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin.

This year’s peak bloom period is predicted to be earlier than the historical average of April 5, and we are told to expect the best days to see the blooming trees are on March 23-24. The reason for this early blooming period is because we are in a period of warmer ocean-atmosphere temperatures along the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific, a.k.a. El-Niño.

If you plan on joining in on the cherry blossom festivities this month, whether you’re just visiting or are a resident of the District — it is well-known that one of the best spots to see the cherry blossoms is along the Tidal Basin and at the Jefferson Memorial. It is worth noting, however, that there are plenty of lesser-known spots that may offer a less hectic viewing experience. The National Arboretum boasts 76 varieties of cherry trees and 446 acres to roam around on. Other spots include Meadowlark Botanic Garden in Northern Virginia, as well as Stanton Park and local spots like Foxhall Village.

Seeing the cherry blossoms in bloom is a special experience in and of itself, but it can mean even more now that we’re equipped with knowledge about the history and significance of these special trees.

Cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum.

Cherry blossoms at the National Arboretum. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.


Impressive Green Roofs around the World

by American Forests

By Austa Somvichian-Clausen, Communications Intern

A green roof — or living roof — can be defined as the roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane.

Green roofs have a number of benefits such as providing habitat for birds, absorbing airborne pollutants, drastically reducing sewer overflow by retaining rainwater and reducing the urban heat island effect whereby high concentrations of concrete buildings and asphalt increase air temperature.

In the United States, cities like Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City now offer financial incentives for installing green roofs. Installations have almost doubled since 2008, and now more than 17.5 million square feet of roofs across the country are considered “green.”

Besides the benefits that green roofs provide for the environment, they also offer aesthetic benefits. Adding a green roof to any building can significantly add to its aesthetic appeal. Take a look at this short list of a few of the more notable and beautiful green roofs around the world.

Museé du Quai Branlys Vertical Garden – Paris, France

Designed and planted by French botanist Dr. Patrick Blanc, the 650-foot-long and 40-foot high Musée du quai Branly greenwall is one of Blanc’s most famous vertical gardens, and one of the most highly photographed in the world. Facing the River Seine with a park and small streets in between, the micro-climate creates a good environment for a large variety of plants.

A reason to celebrate:

Thanks to a French law that passed last March, rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones across France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels. The law was approved by French Parliament and was actually scaled back from initial proposals by environmental groups asking for green roofs to cover the entire rooftop surface of all new buildings. Similar green roof bylaws exist in various cities around the world, including Tokyo, Toronto, Copenhagen and Zurich.

Museé du Quai Branlys Vertical Garden

Credit: Inhabitat via Flickr.

The California Academy of Sciences Living Roof – San Francisco, Calif., United States

One of the most well-known green roofs we have today is located at the Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco, Calif. Weather stations on the  green roof monitor wind, rain and changes in temperature to help inform the building’s automated systems and skylights, which helps keep the interior piazza cool and comfortable, and natural light streaming to the exhibits below.

According to the CAS website: “Edged by solar panels, the roof’s seven hills are lined with 50,000 porous, biodegradable vegetation trays made from tree sap and coconut husks. An estimated 1.7 million plants fill the trays, their roots interlocking to create an extraordinary oasis for birds, insects, people, and other creatures.” The Academy is also the world’s first Double Platinum LEED-certified museum, and the largest Double Platinum building on the planet.

The California Academy of Sciences Living Roof

Credit: Jeanne Marie Tokunaga via Flickr.

The Vancouver Convention Centre – Vancouver, BC, Canada

The Vancouver Convention Centre’s West building is home to a six-acre living roof — the largest in Canada and the largest non-industrial living roof in North America. The sprawling green roof features more than 400,000 indigenous plant and grasses and is designed to act as an insulator, reducing heat gains in the summer and heat losses in the winter. The underside of the roof is lined with beautiful Douglas fir slats, a locally harvested material.

A unique feature of the roof is the four beehives where they keep European honey bees. The bees help pollinate the plants on the living roof while supplying honey for the kitchen.

The Vancouver Convention Centre

Credit: Patsy Wooters via Flickr.

The Nanyang Technological University – Singapore

The key feature of the university’s School of Art Design and Media is its picturesque green roof that slopes almost at a 45-degree angle. The sunken, almond shaped courtyard is formed by the space in between the building’s two main arms and is beautifully reflected from the interior high performance, double-glazed glass curtain wall facades. The green roof doubles as a scenic outdoor communal space and a way to keep ambient temperature low and reduce heat in the daytime. In addition, the reflective pond in the central courtyard provides a cool visual respite  and helps to cool the center space.

The roof turf consists of a combination of two grasses, Zoysia matrella and Ophiopogon. Under the grass roof are four layers of interrelated matter, which include crushed volcanic rocks, pumice and washed sand (for the grass to root), as well as a moisture retention mat. The turfgrass remains green and healthy year round via an automatic sprinkler system using harvested rainwater.

The Nanyang Technological University

Credit: Kelvin Chen via Flickr.

The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland – Brisbane, Australia

Located in the sub-tropical climate of Brisbane, the University of Queensland (UQ)is committed to incorporating sustainability into every aspect of its campus. The 5-story Global Change Institute is the first educational Living Building Challenge-registered project in Queensland, and the UQ’s landmark zero-carbon, 6-star Green Star rated collaborative hub generates more energy than it consumes.

The building features a sun-shading system that tracks the sun and protects the glass louvers, which create natural ventilation. The air flows across occupied office spaces to the central atrium, which acts as the building’s lungs, discharging warm air through its thermal chimney. An onsite greywater system, bush tucker garden, bio-retention basin and greenwalls enhance the building’s green features.

Check out the Global Change Institute’s site to check out more of the building’s cool features.

The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland

Credit: greenroofs.com

ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall – Fukuoka City, Japan

Pioneering green architect Emilio Ambasz transposed a nearly 100,000-square-meter park in the city center onto 15 stepped terraces of the ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall. The design for ACROS Fukuoka proposes a powerful new solution for a common urban problem: reconciling a developer’s desire for profitable use of a site with the public’s need for open green space. The plan for Fukuoka fulfills both needs in one structure by creating an innovative agro-urban model.

ACROS Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall

Credit: makinglewes.files.wordpress.com

Chicago City Hall Green Roof – Chicago, Ill., United States

Chicago’s most famous rooftop garden sits atop City Hall. First planted in 2000, the City Hall rooftop garden was conceived as a demonstration project to test the benefits of green roofs and how they affect temperature and air quality. The garden consists of 20,000 plants of more than 150 species, including shrubs, vines and two trees. The plants were selected for their ability to thrive in the conditions on the roof, which is exposed to the sun and can be windy and arid. Most are prairie plants native to the Chicago region.

The City Hall rooftop garden improves air quality, conserves energy, reduces stormwater runoff and helps lessen the urban heat island effect. The garden’s plants reflect heat, provide shade and help cool the surrounding air through evapotranspiration.

Chicago City Hall Green Roof

Credit: Joe Wolf via Flickr.