Author Matt Ritter speaks for the trees

Reasons why we should care about trees in California:

1. We like to breath oxygen. (I’m just guessing here…)

2. We enjoy shade on a hot day

3. They’re perfect for slacklining

4. Treehouses?

5. Beautiful, diverse, elegant beings that they are, how could we not love trees?

Matt Ritter, author of “A Californian’s Guide to The Trees Among Us“, spoke at Cal Poly last month about the trouble trees face, why we need to protect them, and why, frankly, people just don’t seem to care. I’ve posted my story (published in the Mustang Daily Newspaper) on his talk below, or you can check out the podcast here to listen and learn firsthand about how beautiful our California trees are!

(published February 6, 2012 Mustang Daily News) 

One-third of the plants in California are in danger, Cal Poly associate biology professor Matt Ritter told the audience during a Conversations with Cal Poly Authors event at the Robert E. Kennedy Library Friday morning.

Ritter, director of the Cal Poly Plant Conservatory, and author of “A Californian’s Guide to the Trees Among Us,” started his discussion on urban trees by holding a flowering branch of a Princess eucalyptus plant in one hand and his latest book in the other.

“You would be surprised of how little we know (about trees) and where they are,” Ritter said. “We need to fight for diversity, and a beautiful, stronger urban forest.”

Ritter said he wrote his book “hoping it would be a ‘gateway drug’ of sorts,” for people to search for a greater appreciation of the urban trees in their cities.

“I, too, see value in appreciation of trees to spark conservation and wildlife diversity,” Mark Krist, who worked with Ritter on the Cal Poly Tree Project, said. “It makes people connect more with their planet. Dr. Ritter inspires students to learn more about trees — he has a contagious persona, and enthusiasm for the plant world.”

The book delves into the plant world by detailing 150 to 200 different tree species in California of which Ritter studied during visits to almost every city in western California with a population over 40,000, including San Luis Obispo.

The average person can recognize thousands of brand logos, but less than 10 trees around them, according to Ritter’s book.

In San Luis Obispo County, there are 1,850 species of native plants, and 250 of them are federally endangered or at risk, Ritter said. The Morro Bay Sandspit for example, is home to more rare plants than any other place in the county, Ritter said.

In the face of global warming, “I am worried for a number of reasons about trees in California,” Ritter said. “We need to find and figure out species that are going to be helpful for us.”

These are trees like the ever-controversial and non-native eucalyptus, he said. While many species of eucalyptus act as weeds, this tree “thrives on neglect, needing little water, and provides shade to the streets and absorbs carbon.”

The Coast Live Oak (his tree of choice for treehouses) might soon not be found in places as far south as San Diego due to global warming, Ritter said. Currently, the tree can be found in areas reaching from Sonoma to Baja.

Ritter was joined by Enrica Lovaglio Costello, associate professor of digital media in the art and design department.

“I think it’s really important to see these professors in a different light,” English senior Jordan Hooper said. “And what (Ritter) is saying, it’s really important and valuable.”

The “Conversations with Cal Poly Authors” series is an effort to “bring unity to different departments,” public programs coordinator Karen Lauritsen said. Ritter was the fourth speaker in the series.

“He was very entertaining,” Lauritsen said. “It is important to know and appreciate the natural world.”

–happy tree-hugging, friends!

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