Photo credit: Tree Pittsburgh

Tree Pittsburgh Celebrates Arbor Day with Free Trees, Educational Opportunities

by Karen Price


April 14, 2022

Many holidays mark something that happened in the past, but not Arbor Day.

“When you plant a tree,” Tree Pittsburgh executive director Danielle Crumrine said, “You’re doing that for the future.”

April 29 marks the 150th anniversary of National Arbor Day, the oldest environmental holiday in the country. It was founded to encourage tree planting and raise awareness of the essential role trees play in our lives, and that message, Crumrine said, is more critical now than ever.

“As we feel the impact of climate change, as cities get hotter, as storms become more extreme, we need trees for our own quality of life,” she said. “I don’t think people really have a full understanding of the benefits that trees provide us, including cleaning the air, holding hillsides in place and blocking noise.”

Arbor Day was founded by J. Sterling Morton, whose son founded Morton Salt, after he moved to the Nebraska Territory in 1854 and discovered the landscape to be barren of trees. At the time, people assumed the land wasn’t well suited for farming or trees, but Morton and his wife planted many and he used his position as editor of the Nebraska City News to promote the value of tree planting. Later named secretary of the territory, he proposed the first Arbor Day in 1872 during a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture. By 1920, nearly every state celebrated the holiday.  

For Tree Pittsburgh, which was founded in 2006 and is co-sponsoring Pittsburgh Earth Day’s Sustainable Business Breakfast, the holiday is a chance to shine a light on the cause they champion year-round. 

On this year’s holiday, they’ll distribute 500 trees at the Environmental Charter School, Greenfield Elementary, West Liberty Elementary and Langley K-8. They’re giving away a total of 3,100 trees this spring during various “adoption” events, as well as planting more than 500 trees across Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. 

The organization focuses its planting efforts on areas with the greatest need. They use data to identify which neighborhoods have a low percentage of tree canopy coverage and work with residents and community organizations on greening projects, and also partner with city and county park rangers and conversation groups to identify restoration projects.

While development and utility infrastructure pose ongoing threats to area trees, other concerns include pests and disease. 

We recently lost most of the region’s ash trees to the invasive emerald ash borer beetle, Crumrine said. Right now there’s a species of ambrosia beetle that’s severely impacting trees in our area by leaving behind a fungus that clogs the vascular system of trees, causing them to die. There’s also an invasive insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid attacking hemlocks, the Pennsylvania state tree. 


For anyone looking to plant a tree on their property, Tree Pittsburgh can recommend the best varieties depending on location and need. They also provide advice on caring for trees, and to date have had over 2,500 people take their Tree Tender course. Their unique nursery on the banks of the Allegheny River in Lawrenceville has over 10,000 trees growing from seed. 

The website also offers opportunities for volunteers, and information on the economic, social, environmental and health benefits of trees.

“A big part of our role is to build awareness about the need for trees and all the benefits they provide,” Crumrine said. “On Arbor Day, we have everyone’s attention.”