Plant a Wish tour visits UD, Early Learning Center
Children at UD's Early Learning Center participate in the Plant a Wish ceremony.
Children provided wishes for the tree, including this that it "grow jewels and we get to pick them off."
The tree planting ceremony is taped.

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9 a.m., June 23, 2010----Sara Tekula and Joe Imhoff hope that their project to plant native trees nationwide -- Plant a Wish -- will inspire people to rediscover and restore native habitats across America.

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The husband and wife team from Maui, Hawaii, brought their self-described shovel-and-camera presentation to the University of Delaware on Wednesday, June 16, much to the delight of a large group of enthusiastic youngsters at UD's Early Learning Center.

Joined by Douglas Tallamy, chairperson of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology and author of the best-seller Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, and Chad Nelson, assistant professor of landscape design, Tekula engaged the youngsters in a discussion about trees and their important role in the native and national ecosystems while Imhoff filmed the event.

The youngsters from the ELC also wrote also wrote their wishes on slips of paper that were planted along with a six-foot red elm tree.

Wishes included having animals live in the tree as it reaches a potential growth of 100 feet, seeing jewels ripe for picking grow on the tree, and a hope that the tree would bear candy and “all the good things in the world.”

The first planting of a native tree through the Plant a Wish project was in 2007 in Jula, Hawaii, the location of the couple's wedding. Since then, Tekula and Imhoff have planted 400 trees in the Aloha State.

The current cross-country tour began May 31 with the planting of a northern red oak in Monona, Wis. Tour dates, locations and type of trees planted are chronicled on the Plant a Wish website.

“We became more and more aware of the native trees that had become extinct in Hawaii, which has become known as the epicenter of the extinction of native species,” Tekula said. “Our passion is for native trees and plants and to protect their native habitats.”

Tekula said her love for native plants and the environment began as youngster on Long Island, N.Y. “I was a fisherman's daughter, and I would hear my dad talk about pollution and the dwindling number of fish,” Tekula said. “You can extend this same impact to the land.”

To date, the tour has been blessed with good weather for its plantings, with the last shovel full of dirt often going in while rain drops begin to fall, Tekula said.

Planting sites have included Minneapolis, Knoxville, Iowa, North Omaha, Neb., and Atchison, Kan. Closer to the First State, tour stops have included Ashburn, Va., Washington, D.C., and Annapolis.

After UD, the tour continues at Somerset, N.J., and then moves on to Hunts Point in the Bronx, N.Y.

The tallest tree planted to date has been a 15-foot white swamp oak at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. The most diminutive was a 2.5-foot moon sycamore in the East River area of Washington, D.C.

“We encourage the planting of native trees and we put them in locations where we feel people will take care of the trees after we have gone,” Tekula said. “We find many people from the community who would not ordinarily meet each other coming together during a planting and introducing themselves to each other.”

Tallamy said it was encouraging to see so many young people getting a hands-on experience in learning about the importance of trees and other native plants in the local ecosystem.

“This is a great way for children to learn about trees and conservation and ecology,” Tallamy said. “Hopefully they will come back in 20 or even 50 years and see how much the tree that they helped plant has grown.”

Nelson, who selected and delivered the red elm and helped dig the hole for the tree and the wish notes, said he was encouraged by the curiosity and enthusiasm displayed by the children as they placed their wishes in what would become the tree's new home.

“They are really enjoying themselves,” Nelson said. “You hope this will continue as they grow older and remember what they have done today.”

The planting concluded when a group of youngsters formed a circle around the newly planted elm and paused to imagine how the tree would grow strong and tall.

When asked to wake up the tree in its new home, the children reacted with a high decibel scream.

“We are wishing for more trees to be planted,” Imhoff said. “I also wish for these kids to never stop wishing.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

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