And the winner is……
Erin Thompson, Urban Forester for Louisville, Kentucky
Q: What tree species was proclaimed the first “Mother Tree” to honor motherhood in America?
The correct answer is the white birch (Betula papyrifera), aka, paper birch and canoe birch.
The idea for a tree dedicated to the glory of motherhood came from Solan Parkes, a Berks County, Pennsylvania man. On May 18, 1923 (Mother’s Day of course!), a white birch was planted and dedicated in Reading, Pennsylvania. The white birch was selected because the white bark represents the purity of motherhood and its heart-shaped leaves represents the love mothers have for their children.
The idea caught on with governors in states from New Hampshire to North Dakota to Arizona to California, and within one year white birches were planted coast to coast including one planted on the White House lawn to honor presidents’ mothers. The “Father of American Forestry”, Gifford Pinchot, even supported the movement and arranged the planting of a white birch on the statehouse grounds in Harrisburg, PA. Read all about it in the May 18, 1924 issue of the Reading Eagle newspaper.
The most touching use of the white birch came in 1932 when one was planted in Arlington Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. During the planting ceremony, children lined up with cups of soil in hand that had come from all 48 states and from around the world. As the tree was planted, they added their cup of soil to the planting hole. This effort was made so that no matter where the hero came from, the soil of his native state would nurture the tree as it grew.