‘Branches’ of government: City promotes tree planting

Fruit. Shade. Palm. Take your pick – the City of Port St. Lucie wants you to plant one, or three. Mayor Gregory Oravec has laid down the gauntlet: 180,000 trees before the end of the year, a tree per resident.

“I would hug a tree,” Oravec said. “Some I would even chain myself to.”

Aside from improving the ambiance of the city, scrubbing the air and providing oxygen, and providing habitat for wildlife, it comes down to the bottom line: Trees save you money.

“It’s a cost-effective investment in your property,” the mayor said, explaining that shade trees, when placed correctly, can help residents curb electric costs. Fruit trees help offset grocery bills, too. “They improve the bottom line.”

And only do they help residents’ individual pocketbooks, but also the government’s coffers. Oravec explained that state and federal governments are spending billions of dollars to fix Florida’s stormwater systems. Large shade trees absorb as much as 60 percent of the rainfall that touches them through the leaves and roots; that rainfall doesn’t collect pollution and then run off into the St. Lucie River or the Indian River Lagoon.

If you can improve your property, the air, the river, “why wouldn’t you do that?” he asked rhetorically.

From his perspective, Live Oaks are the best shade trees. For palms, the mayor prefers Coconut Palms – though he warns you don’t want the coconuts to conk people on the head. Florida Royal Palms are also a favorite.

As for fruit? Orange – or any citrus. “Nothing beats, to me, the smell” of orange blossom, Oravec said.

It’s for all those reasons that the mayor has issued the Port St. Lucie Tree Challenge, which has become a joint venture among several departments to implement.

The Information Technology department crafted a special webpage with an interactive map for residents to mark their newly planted trees. The website is www.cityofpsl.com/iplant. The city also encourages residents to spread the word via social media using #iplant in the post.

Public Works and Communications are making a video to help residents determine what to look for in tree placement. Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful and Neighborhood Services are promoting the challenge at upcoming events and helping with two tree giveaways the city will be hosting in May and September.

The challenge also helps to keep Port St. Lucie recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree City USA, a distinction it has held for 13 consecutive years.

“We hope to have some fun with it,” Oravec said of the challenge, explaining that Port St. Lucie will be reaching out to local landscapers and big-box home improvement stores to see about getting residents discounts. The Chamber of Commerce and other organizations also could be tapped to see about providing swag for the tree giveaways.

The city encourages residents to opt for Florida native trees including Live Oak, Red maple, Sycamore, Crape Myrtle, Bald Cypress and Hollies. Evergreens, too, are encouraged, and include such species as Red Cedar, Buttonwood, Wax Myrtle and Slash Pine.

“Everyone benefits when elected officials, volunteers and committed citizens in communities like Port St. Lucie make smart investments in urban forests,” Matt Harris, chief executive of the Arbor Day Foundation, said in a prepared statement.

 Get a Tree – Plant a Tree: May 19, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Public Works Building, 450 SW Thornhill Dr., Port St. Lucie. The city will give away an assorted variety of 500 trees that are native to Florida. Must be a city resident. Giveaway is limited to first come, first served.

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