On the back of a Florida Forest Service truck in the Rich’s IGS parking lot in Wewahitchka on Friday sat about 150 trees of a variety of native species.
“We’ve got live oak, pin oak, bald cypress, Chickasaw plum, red maple, dogwood, and magnolia,” said forestry worker Charles Laird, who had woken up early that morning to pick the trees up in White City.
All were small, and most were leafless, but Laird said that come spring, the twigs would grow rapidly into beautiful, full trees, with some eventually reaching heights of 30 or 40 feet.
And, as part of Florida’s Arbor Day celebration, they were given out for free to a steady stream of locals who came by to parooze the selection and chat with Laird and his coworker, Steve Oswalt.
While national Arbor Day is in April, the state of Florida has been celebrating Arbor Day on the third Friday in January since 1886, making it one of the longest-observed Arbor Day celebrations in the country.
“We’re a warmer state, so the best time to plant trees is in the winter time, so we have (Arbor Day) in the winter.”
“With the Forest Service, we like to try to pick native varieties of trees that people might want to put in their yards, so a lot of these trees flower or produce unique foliage.”
Every year, the Florida Forest Service launches a campaign to celebrate the holiday by handing out thousands of free trees across the state.
According to the Forest Service’s website, the campaign aims to spread awareness of the many services and benefits trees provide to the local environment.
Additionally, the Forestry Service said that “by planting trees, you can save up to 20% on your summer energy bills and clean the air & water in your community.”
And the event is good fun, said Oswalt, who called it one of his favorite days of the year.
“I’ve been doing this for probably 25 years, and it’s always a good time,” he said.