Tree and Edible Plant Diversity

Written by John Sepulveda, Certified Arborist WI-1454A


Many of the plants and trees we see in our everyday lives did not grow in North America before it was colonized by Europeans. As settlers came they brought with them crops and other plants from Europe. As the country developed, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was established in 1862, and it assumed responsibility for introducing new seeds and plants. At the time, most farmers grew the same crops of corn, wheat and oats. With the help of agricultural explorers such as Dr. David Fairchild, there is now a wide variety of plants grown in the U.S., helping to diversify our agricultural range among landscapes and horticultural uses.


Fig tree donated by Dr. David Fairchild

Dr. David Fairchild is credited with the introduction of more than 80,000 species of plants. He collected species and propagated them at the USDA Plant Introduction Garden in Florida. He introduced species we are familiar with today including Chinese soybeans, pistachios, nectarines, avocados, kale, and horseradish. The diversification of plants and trees greatly improved the availability of food that previously was imported or unavailable.


One tree successfully introduced was the flowering cherry tree from Japan. The trees were given as a diplomatic gift in 1910 to strengthen the bond between the two countries. In Japan, the tree’s leaves and blossoms are used in making traditional sweets and tea. However, as the story goes, U.S. gardeners noticed the trees were infested with pests and fungi, and the USDA had all the gift trees burned. A new batch was sent and the Japanese Cherry Blossoms have survived around the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. for over 100 years there through attentive care and some clones to add to their numbers. Safe importing practices such as these have led to a multitude of trees, shrubs and flowers available for our landscapes.



While we have seen many benefits to plant diversity and even started yearly traditions such as the cherry blossom festivals in Macon, Georgia and Washington D.C., there is a downside. Invasive species can threaten native plants and even push them to become endangered or extinct. It is important to be mindful of restrictions on planting certain trees and plants in local areas. A certified arborists can help you not only avoid invasive species, but also select the right tree for the location and conditions where it will be planted.


Hoppe is a full-circle tree care company celebrating its 50th year of excellent service to southeastern Wisconsin customers. We have a team of certified arborists and plant health care technicians on staff to provide expert tree services, from planting to pruning to prevention and treatment of insect and disease issues. If you would like an inspection of your trees or are considering planting new trees in your yard, give us a call at 414.257.2111 to schedule a visit by a Hoppe certified arborist.



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