Live oak trees are hearty. Even though Hurricane Ike whipped the magnificent trees surrounding City Hall, only one was lost to the monumental storm in 2008. That hole in the ground was filled in with a 6-year-old live oak Friday morning.
While not as large as the nearby trees — they have several decades head start on the "youngster" — the eight-inch-in-diameter tree fits well into the surroundings at Hermann Square Park and completes the line of live oaks along McKinney street.
Houston Parks and Recreation director Joe Turner, Houston city councilman James Rodriguez, and Abby Clark, development director of Trees for Houston, heralded the planting as part of an ambitious project to plant 25,000 trees in one day — Jan. 22 — to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the city's Arbor Day.
During an outdoor press conference, Turner pointed to the live oak behind him as the first tree to be planted as part of the project and a nearby bald cypress seedling in a five-gallon container as the last one that will be put into the ground on Arbor Day. He figures that one person can plant ten trees, so he needs a lot of volunteers to make the project happen.
"If you divide 25,000 by 10, we need 2,500 volunteers. We have 800," he said.
Volunteers can sign up online at www.houstonparks.org. (Pre-registration is required.) Registration for groups of 10 or more, contact Oneika McCarthy at email@example.com or 832-395-7030.
All the trees will be planted in two locations in Rodriguez's northeast Houston district. Rodriguez said the hurricane felled thousands of trees in his district, so the replanting will not only beautify the East End but help reduce air pollution from the 18-wheelers that barrel through the heavily industrial area.
"I'll be there shovel in hand," he said.
The planting will include bald cypress, Loblolly pine, cedar elm, redbud and crepe myrtle trees — all given by the Apache Corporation, which has donated 385,000 trees for planting in Houston since 2006.
"Rain or shine, we'll be putting those trees into the ground," Turner said.
There will be a tree planting demonstration on Arbor Day before the work begins. Volunteers are encouraged to bring shovels, although holes will have already been dug. "We break all the ground for you, so it's not too hard to get the tree into the ground, most of the time," Turner said.
As the planting of the live oak tree commenced at City Hall, Turner marveled at how so many of the hearty oaks had survived Hurricane Ike. Around 4,800 trees — mostly pines — on city property were lost to the storm, he said.
To help the City Hall live oaks recover, twinkle lights were removed from the branches. Now, the lights only extend up the trunk. Turner said the branches had filled out nicely since then.
If funds can be found, Turner hopes to tie into the new computerized system lighting City Hall so that the trees can be uplit in different colors and "we'd be out of the twinkle light business."