Marissa and her husband, Justin
Marissa and her husband, Justin’s wedding in Sequoia National Park, Calif. Credit: Peter Amend, A Fierce Love Photography.

The Gift of Trees as wedding favors hit all the right chords for one family and their guests.

Karen McLellan was helping her daughter, Marissa, organize her wedding when Marissa offhandedly asked if they should have wedding favors. Karen knew at that moment that she had an opportunity to share something wonderful with her daughter and everyone important in her daughter’s life.

When Karen was young, her own parents took her on trips to visit their extended family in the Midwest and the East. They would stop at every National Park along the way, learning about the trees, birds and wildlife, camping off the beaten path and often stopping just to listen. Her dad would have her close her eyes and put her arms out wide, imagining she was a tree, listening to the crickets, the grass and the cottonwoods that “seemed to whistle.” Her mom would say they were whispering to us, that “we need to take care of them.”

One time when Karen was very young, her dad took her out to plant trees where wildfires and bark beetles had destroyed the forest. He told her that “Mother Nature’s miracles start working with our help.” The time he spent with her invested a life-long love for, and appreciation of, nature, and when she had her own daughter, Karen understood that she had to pass it along.

So, when Marissa asked Karen whether they should bother with wedding favors, Karen knew that they should bother — and that it would be an excellent opportunity to give back. They decided to plant a tree for every wedding guest who attended. They held the wedding in Sequoia National Park. And, two weeks later they had a large reception in Karen’s backyard. When Karen gave a toast to explain their take on wedding favors, and that they chose to donate a tree to honor every guest, she was interrupted by wild cheers and applause before she could finish. For the rest of the night, she was approached by guests asking how she had thought of such a good idea. She told them that she had been a member of American Forests for nearly a decade and that part of her gift to Marissa was a membership for her and her new husband, Justin.

How Karen describes her experience and her motivations is nothing short of inspiring.

“The strength of a marriage is like the strong roots of a tree,” she said. “One hundred and fifty trees to be sewn into the land to begin growing roots, like the kids begin growing theirs today.”