Trees for teachers | The Gazette

Trees for teachers | The Gazette

Trees are separated by species during the first day of tree pickup for Unity Point employees at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, April 8, 2021. UnityPoint Health Cedar Rapids employees received free trees through the Planting Forward campaign, which was created by the Monarch Research Group to help replace trees on derecho-damaged private property. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

This fall, as area teachers return to their classrooms, they’ll also become students again.

Staff in the Cedar Rapids Community School District — as well as most public, private and parochial schools in Linn and Benton counties — will learn about the critical importance of native trees to our ecosystem.

Then they’ll have the chance to select three native trees — two for their home and one to share with a neighbor or friend — at no cost.

More than 8,000 teachers and staff will be invited to order trees, including 3,300 with Cedar Rapids schools.

All Trees Are Not Equal

Dr. Douglas Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware and New York Times bestselling author, has written and spoken extensively about the critical importance of native plants.

Tallamy visited Eastern Iowa in September 2019 for the Linn Landowner Forum and later that day addressed a group of 220-plus business and community leaders.

Members of CRCSD’s Green and Leadership teams attended the lecture, along with staff from Cedar River Academy, which focuses on sustainability and is the first certified outdoor elementary classroom in Iowa.

Tallamy’s research inspired robust conversations about how simple actions impact the environment, ourselves and our world. As one CRCSD attendee summarized, “we need to plant additional native trees, not just any tree.” We left determined to add more native trees to school properties across the city.

Why? Because native trees provide essential energy for our ecosystem.

The difference between native plants and non-natives is that natives have co-evolved with the plants and animals around them, Dr. Tallamy explained.

In order for an insect to eat a plant, it must be able to bypass the plant’s defenses. To eat a tree that would be otherwise toxic, insects adapt over time. When we import plants, local insects cannot handle the non-native’s chemical defenses. Those plants sit there, looking pretty, but not contributing to the local food web.

Tallamy says that the best native tree to plant is an oak, “our most essential native tree,” because they support more life-forms than any other North American tree, from birds to bears, butterflies to spiders.

School district employees will be invited to select from 25 trees, including seven oak varieties. The trees will be delivered in October, one of the best times of year to plant trees.

Monarch Research Project, a nonprofit based in Marion, will pay for all trees distributed to school districts. Donations in support of this effort may be made at

Planting Forward

With this school district project, Monarch Research continues its efforts to return native habitat to Linn County. After 2020’s devastating derecho, it sought employer partners that are able to distribute trees efficiently and educate employees on the importance of native trees and how to care for them.

In spring 2021, 38 Eastern Iowa business and nonprofit partners distributed 15,000 trees through the Planting Forward program. This included both Cedar Rapids hospitals. With 7,000 employees, the hospitals will participate again this fall.

One UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Hospital employee who lost 40 trees in the derecho stated, upon receiving three trees in May: “This is the first step in putting our property back together. What an amazing gift to give a community. We look forward to watching our trees grow for years to come.”

As CRCSD continues working to restore the tree canopy on school properties, district leaders are filled with hope about how Planting Forward will help the district’s employees.

Environmental restoration must occur on both public and private properties, and CRCSD is excited to think of all the trees its employees will be planting this fall. These collective actions will have a big impact.

Join Us, Learn More

Monarch Research invites companies to participate in Planting Forward next spring.

We’ll make it easy for you, providing everything needed to implement the program. Companies can structure the tree giveaway to fit their own culture, budget and employee needs. If your company is interested, please contact Clark (, Jim Hoffman ( or Hilery Livengood (

Dr. Tallamy is preparing an educational presentation for this fall’s Planting Forward participants. He is scheduled to return to Eastern Iowa in fall 2022, when he’ll give the keynote lecture at the annual Linn Landowner Forum. We hope you’ll join us.

Working together, we can restore our tree canopy and improve our local ecosystem.

Noreen Bush is Superintendent of the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Clark McLeod serves as CEO and President of Monarch Research, a nonprofit seeking to add pollinator habitat throughout Linn County and reestablish the monarch population.

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