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Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department will celebrate Tampa’s 30th year as a Tree City USA® with the planting of three Florida evergreens in honor of Florida Arbor Day at 10 a.m. Friday, January 20, in front of the Zoo’s Florida Environmental Education Center (also known as Zoo School).

The Zoo has been selected by the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department to receive a number of Florida native trees to be planted throughout Zoo grounds as part of the Community Tree Program, established in 1997 to enhance neighborhoods and encourage environmental stewardship. Zoo horticulture staff chose hollies for the Zoo School entry beautification project, which were specifically selected to match existing landscape conditions. More than 30 pre-K students enrolled in preschool at the Zoo School will help celebrate Florida Arbor Day with song, mulching of the new trees with “zoo poo” compost, and animal enrichments to encourage wildlife to nest in the new trees. The hollies being planted are a hybrid that is vigorous and fast growing that provides numerous red berries in winter months. Holly flowers provide a good nectar source for pollinating insects such as bees and bumblebees and the berries provide food for many birds.

In addition to housing more than 1,500 animals representing 350 species, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is a botanical garden. A bountiful collection of trees and plants play a vital role providing shade, shelter and even food for Zoo animals and guests, while also serving as an environmental educational opportunity. The Zoo’s plantings are focused on native species and well-behaved exotics that thrive in our climate, with the goal of inspiring guests to do the same.

Since 1981, Tampa has been nationally designated a Tree City USA® program, by the National Arbor Day Foundation. The National Arbor Day Foundation, in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, recognizes towns and cities across America that effectively manage their public tree resources and encourage the implementation of community tree management based on four Tree City USA® program, standards. To qualify for this honor, a city must have a tree ordinance in place, hold an Arbor Day event, and have a comprehensive urban forestry program.
Arbor Day is a nationally-celebrated observance that promotes the benefits of trees in the urban environment and encourages tree planting and care. Founded by J. Sterling Morton in Nebraska in 1872, National Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April. Individual states conduct their own Arbor Day celebrations at various times of the year. Florida has celebrated Arbor Day since 1886 and has one of the first Arbor Day celebrations in the nation, on the third Friday in January.

Tampa's urban forest plays a significant role in maintaining the vitality of urban life. The urban forest provides a wealth of benefits to neighborhoods and communities through the reduction of energy consumption; the removal of pollutants from the air and water; reduction in stormwater flows; increased valuation of private property as well as providing recreational opportunities and aesthetic diversity.

The new trees planted at the Zoo were donated by the City of Tampa Parks and Recreation Department through the Community Tree Program. This program was established in 1997 to enhance neighborhoods and help sustain Tampa’s urban forest and shade canopy. The Community Tree Program encourages community involvement at both the time of planting and beyond, generating a sense of responsibility and environmental stewardship in citizens.