River View Elementary pupils learn about Arbor Day at arboretum
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org April 26, 2012 7:54PM
Jim Teiber, city arborist, stands near an ash tree at the Joliet Arboretum Wednesday, April 25, 2012, at 920 N. Broadway in Joliet. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Geno Zaletel is the winner of this year’s Big Tree Contest.
Zaletel is being recognized for having the biggest silver maple tree found in the city for the contest.
The tree in Zaletel’s yard at 807 Campbell St. was measured at 132 feet tall. Its circumference is 13 feet, 4 inches, and the crown of the tree is an average of 74 inches.
Each year, the city of Joliet holds a Big Tree Contest for a specific species of tree. The winner is announced on Arbor Day.
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:40AM
JOLIET — Third-graders received little white fir trees at the city’s Arbor Day festivities Thursday. And, if those third-graders want to see what the tree should look like in a few years, they can visit the Joliet Arboretum and get their parents to buy them some ice cream, too.
This is the place to go to see what a tree will look like when it grows, city Arborist Jim Teiber said.
“You can see the growing habit of a tree, how it forms,” Teiber said. “In the fall, you can see the fall colors. You can walk around and see different trees and you might say, ‘I’d like that in my front yard.’”
It’s all free, too, although not the ice cream.
Not well known
The Joliet Arboretum, not exactly the best known place in town, is located along the north side of Broadway between Ingalls Avenue and Ross Street. The most familiar landmark is the Rich ‘n Creamy ice cream stand right in the middle of the arboretum.
Just behind the ice cream stand grows a white fir tree, in which third-graders at River View Elementary School should have a keen interest.
Friday is Arbor Day.
But on Thursday, the city celebrated Arbor Day with students at River View Elementary School. There, 133 students got the little white fir trees to take home.
It’s a unique evergreen, Teiber pointed out during an interview this week at the Joliet Arboretum. The needles have an upturned shape and are softer than those of many other evergreens. This time of year, the new growth shows a light green color that contrasts nicely with the older needles on the tree.
Not far from the white fir, arboretum visitors also can get an idea of the damage being done by the infamous emerald ash borer, which is killing millions of ash trees in the United States. Three ash trees stand behind Route 66 board signs in the arboretum parking lot. The leaves generally look good, but Teiber points to bark damage that shows the trees are infested.
Lots to see
There’s lots to see at the Joliet Arboretum for people who are interested in trees.
The arboretum has been growing gradually since the late 1990s, much of it through volunteer efforts and with donated trees.
But it is city property, and Teiber oversees it.
There are some unique species, including a tulip tree, which Teiber thinks many homeowners would find attractive because of its red flowers and uniquely shaped leaves. The leaves look like tulips — hence the name.
Teiber’s personal favorite is the Kentucky coffeetree. He notes its flaky bark, it’s uniform growth, its rounded shape. “It’s almost the perfect tree,” he said.
“We have three different varieties of beech trees,” Teiber added. There’s American, European and blue beech trees, although the blue beech has yet to be labeled.
Typical of the volunteerism that has made the arboretum a reality, nearly all the labeling that allows visitors to read about the trees was down by an Eagle Scout. Dan Harvey of Joliet, now a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, was honored last year for his work and those of fellow Boy Scouts in making small signs to mark and describe 35 different species in the arboretum.
The species are expanding. Just this week, Teiber was overseeing the arrival of a quaking aspen and black locust.
Volunteers want to add a “fruit forest” and hope to lay the groundwork by the fall, said Rita Renwick, who heads the city’s Tree Board.
The Cool Joliet environmental group is volunteering in the effort to create a grove of fruit trees that could add to the learning experience at the arboretum, Renwick said.
“It will be an educational example of how people can fit into their yards trees and plants to grow healthy food,” Renwick said.
The Tree Board is a panel of citizens that advise the city on matters concerning trees. In addition to its reputation as a prison town, steel city, and riverboat gambling destination, Joliet also has been recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for 21 consecutive years.
The recognition matters to an arborist like Teiber.
“It shows that we do care about our trees,” he said. “We care about our greenscape.”