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Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Make each day an Earth Day

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Storm clouds ahead of the Easter Day cold front

Next Wednesday, April 22nd, is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Why have an Earth Day? We humans have done an atrocious job of keeping the planet healthy. For example: In 1949 dioxin was released at a West Virginia herbicide factory. Dioxin, an ingredient in Agent Orange, persists in soil for years. January, 1969, a rig leaked millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. June 1969, industrial chemicals, oils and pollutants in the Cuyahoga River caught on fire along the southern shores of Lake Erie. The worst US nuclear power accident at Three Mile Island was in 1979, but this was far surpassed in 1986 by Chernobyl in the Ukraine. The last 10 years, 467 species have been declared extinct. How are we doing so far?

Disastrous environmental events actually caught the attention of the American public. At a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Conference in San Francisco, John McConnell proposed March 21st 1970 (first day of spring) be Earth Day. In a signed proclamation the day was recognized by the United Nations. Many countries observe Earth Day the first day of spring. McConnell created the ‘Blue Marble Earth’ seen on Earth Day flags. One month later Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson held an environmental teach-in, and proclaimed April 22nd to be Earth Day in the US. Earth Day has since been in April. It created a strong public grassroots movement which resulted in the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Air Act.

One bright light of hope is the Bald Eagle. This hunter of fish and smaller wildlife was itself hunted and killed by people who also destroyed its habitats. Bald eagles died within 2-3 weeks after ingesting lead in waterfowl and fish. DDT put them at extinction’s door by interfering with egg shell development. In 1962 Rachel Carson’s book ‘Silent Spring’ exposed the dangers of DDT. The chemical was banned in 1972 but the American Bald Eagle, US National Emblem selected in 1782, was now considered endangered (close to extinction). Proper law enforcement, nest protection and other strategies were implemented. The Bald Eagle has now rebounded and was removed off the Endangered List in 2007. Americans should be ashamed their own national emblem almost vanished. Have we learned anything?

2020 Earth Day theme is ‘Climate Change’. Every day our earth deals with losses of habitats for many of its 8.7 million species (over 80% not yet known or described) and watches its waters and soils become more and more contaminated with plastics and chemicals while supporting over 7 billion people. Thankless job?

Whatever the reason, the climate bears watching. We need to spring into action to help remedy rising problems where we can. Since we’re all rather housebound at the moment, focus on your home. Purchase items in recyclable packaging….and recycle what you can. Don’t waste food, water or power. Be conservative. Pick up trash. Turn your yard into a nature-friendly landscape with native plants. They require much less maintenance. It’s the small things that count, so don’t be discouraged. Do your best.

I’ve been so distracted. My early morning walk this past Tuesday was filled with snow flakes and snow pellets propelled by the cold north wind. What month is this? Back inside my cozy warm home I checked the on-line onslaught of e-mails. Mouth-watering pictures of luscious pecans and a pecan pie were posted by Sunnyland Farms, the 1,760-acre operation in Albany, Georgia; last year’s fruitcake source.

Tuesday was National Pecan Day, celebrated every April 14th. Why April? Is this an advertising ploy to sell the rest of the previous year’s pecan crop or inspire those to now plant their own pecan trees. If container grown, yes indeed. A 4-foot-tall grafted pecan tree grows 13-24 inches per year, sends down a 1 to 3 foot long tap root and begins producing nuts in 6-7 years. A mature pecan tree is worth over $2,500. Not a bad investment which makes a tasty pie.

How wonderful that a native nut is honored with its own day (we’re talking plants)! The pecan (Carya illionoiensis) is a hickory. Native to northern Mexico and the southern Mississippi Basin, the nut is a nutritional powerhouse with over 19 vitamins and minerals (copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, several B vitamins, and folic acid, to name a few). Pecans are heart healthy as they contain monounsaturated fats, more antioxidants than any other tree nut, good for skin and hair and boost the immune system. The word pecan is from the French pacane translated from Cree pakan, Ojibwa began or Abenaki pagan (all Algonquian tribes).

The pecan is included in the state symbols of Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and California. California? The pecan shares the limelight with the almond, walnut and pistachio as official state nuts. Easy to be an official nut in California.

Texans are serious about their pecans. Pecans rank as the state tree, state health nut and state pie. Alabama claims the pecan as their state nut. The pecan is the state nut in Arkansas. The Vine Ripe Pink Tomato is Arkansas’s State Fruit & Vegetable. Remember this.

Oklahoma’s has no official state nut. Competition is too stiff. We do have an official humongous state meal which includes pecan pie and explains why many people in this state are not so svelte.

I discovered only fourteen states have official vegetables. I am stymied by the selection of the watermelon as the official Oklahoma state veggie. A botanist recognizes the watermelon as a fruit since it develops from the ovary and bears seeds for reproduction. Even seedless varieties have seeds. State legislators could have taken a page from Arkansas and simply called the watermelon the state fruit & vegetable! Nope, the strawberry was declared the Oklahoma state fruit two years before the watermelon was turned into an Oklahoma vegetable. Apparently, our state leaders eat the leaves and stems of this West African plant. Someone should introduce them to the juicy sweet fruit.

Native plants in bloom: Black locust tree with white dangling flower clusters, orangy Indian Paintbrush, low-growing Dewberry plants with white rose-like single-petal blooms, yellow tubes of the Fringed Puccoon, creamy white floral balls on Rusty Haw Viburnum, orangish red Coral Honeysuckle and delicate Daisy Fleabane.

Forecast is warmer weather. In no time we’ll be scorching. Woo-hoo. May is our month of notoriety for turbulent weather. Storm chasers are cutting teeth with April’s offerings. The cold front that rolled through Easter day was accompanied by billowing clouds which looked very impressive from a distance.

Just the beginning.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.