Day dedicated to trees at Hance Elementary

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

Arbor Day 2014 inspired a novel giveaway at Hance Elementary School in Richland.

First-graders each took home a baby oak tree on April 25.

Arborist Stephen Miller of Richland — father of Hance first-grader Matthew Miller — passed out the 100 white swamp oak seedlings on behalf of Bartlett Tree Experts.

Clients of the 107-year-old international firm include the queen of England.

Miller — an Army veteran with a bachelor's degree in urban forestry — is among more than 200 arborists employed by Bartlett Tree Experts in the United States.

“Each arborist is handing out 100 (seedlings) across the country,” Miller said about the Arbor Day giveaway. “Our goal is to give away 25,000 seedlings.

“This is the first year we've done this,” Miller said. “It's going to be something we do every year. This year, it was all oak trees. In another year, we'll choose another type of tree. “

A goal is to increase children's awareness of the benefits of planting trees, Miller said.

“Another goal is to increase the local diversities of native tree populations to better withstand natural disasters, such as insects and disease outbreaks,” he said.

Musser Forests Inc. of Indiana County supplied the 1-year-old white swamp oak seedlings distributed at Hance Elementary School.

First-grader Elizabeth Brough, 6, planted her leafless, 1-foot-tall seedling — in potting soil — in a plastic container on her family's outdoor deck.

“My dad said it's the best place for now because if it's in the yard, a deer could come and not see it, and it could step on it,” said Elizabeth, daughter of Chris and Shelley Brough of Richland.

At school, Elizabeth learned that her tiny tree might live 300 years and grow to be 70 feet tall and 50 feet wide.

“We knew it was going to be coming home. … She was very excited,” said Elizabeth's mom. “I would say it's skinnier than a pencil. It's got no branches. It's just like a little stick.”

Elizabeth's infant tree came with roots, packaged in a plastic bag. She carried it home.

“I was excited to go home and see my family smile,” Elizabeth said.

In addition to passing out baby oak trees, arborist Miller talked to Elizabeth and her classmates about the benefits of trees.

He showed them how the number of rings in a tree's trunk reveal the tree's age and how the rings' varied widths reveal whether the tree experienced a good or poor growing season in any particular year.

Miller also showed the first-graders a 4-foot-wide slice of trunk taken from a 115-year-old black oak tree.

Miller chose to give away white swamp oak seedlings — one of 500 species of oak trees — because of the white swamp oak's natural resistance to oak wilt disease. A fungus triggers oak wilt disease — common in Western Pennsylvania — by attacking an oak tree's vascular system.

Like a tree doctor, Miller routinely visits Pittsburgh area yards to diagnose and treat tree ailments. His prescriptions range from therapeutic injections to cable installations that help to support weak branches.

“We put in a lot of lightening systems in trees,” Miller said. “Because Pennsylvania is the No. 1 state for tree damage due to lightening. I think it's because we have big trees right next to our houses.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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