Happily engaged with Friends of Trees

By Jana Woerner, DukeEngage Intern

Jana the fearless GS warrior

Hello fellow tree enthusiasts! My name is Jana, and I’m the current DukeEngage intern at Friends of Trees (for those of you who may be unfamiliar with DukeEngage, it is a civic engagement program that allows 300+ Duke students to serve communities across the world in a meaningful way). Through my position at Friends of Trees, I have the opportunity to work with both the Neighborhood Trees and the Green Space program. Although summer falls outside of the planting season, both programs have been busy with checking in on prior planting sites and preparing for the upcoming planting season! Whereas a lot of my friends have complained about the endless boredom they face at their current summer internships, my summer at Friends of Trees has flown by (I’m still in denial that it will be over in two short weeks!). However, before I have to say “good-bye” (or hopefully, “see you later”) to this amazing organization, I thought I’d share some things that I learned from my time here:


  • Trees are actually really cool


Not only do they provide shade on hot summer days (get it? trees are literally cool), but they also reduce pollutants from nearby highways, prevent river contamination, and reduce crime. Most importantly, they play a significant role in combating climate change. In addition, some types of trees are just inherently amazing – whether it’s a funky branching pattern, deciduous leaves on conifers, or an interesting historical anecdote. For example, the dawn redwood found in Portland’s very own Hoyt Arboretum is the first dawn redwood to bear cones outside of China in the last 60 million or so years. That’s pretty cool if you ask me!


  • Mulch donuts aren’t as fun as actual donuts


The Neighborhood Trees and the Green Space programs both use mulch to retain soil moisture and limit competition, which gives newly planted trees and shrubs a better chance of thriving. To ensure that the mulch benefits these trees (rather than suffocating/drowning their roots), Friends of Trees follows a 3-3-3 (3 feet wide, 3 inches tall, and 3 inches away from the trunk) rule, which basically results in a “mulch donut.” If you made it through this paragraph without clicking on a new tab out of boredom, you probably came to the same conclusion as me: mulch donuts are helpful, but real donuts are more exciting 🙂

  • Blackberries are the perfect snack, but also the perfect weed


While we’re on the topic of food, I thought it’d be appropriate to mention blackberries. A huge part of the maintenance projects with the Green Space program involves the removal of invasive species, especially pesky Himalayan blackberries. Although these provide a healthy snack on long, hot days in the field, their thorns are magically attracted to my fieldwork clothes. In addition, their thick stems make these plants even harder to remove. Nonetheless, I always get in a nice workout with the weed-whacker during my Green Space days.


  • Driving a pick-up isn’t that bad, but rush hour traffic is


On my last “sick and dying route”, one of my supervisors told me it was finally time for me to spread my wings and fly: it was time to drive one of the pick-up trucks. This may not seem like a noteworthy experience to you, but the biggest car I’ve driven so far is a Ford Focus (which is pretty tiny). Although everything went relatively smoothly, our horrible navigation skills resulted in roughly 30-40 U-turns in the span of two to three hours. Needless to say, I’m 99% confident that I can turn a truck around anywhere now. Nonetheless, rush hour (or should I say hours?) in Portland is crazy – there has been many a time where I have spent an hour or so in traffic daydreaming about my shower on the way back from Green Space field days.


  • People make this place


Last, but definitely not least, people matter. A lot. Friends of Trees wouldn’t be able to do any of their amazing work without the help of hundreds of volunteers each year – from tree planting to office support, it’s incredible to witness the impact that these community members have (to any volunteers reading this, thank you (!!!) for making Portland the amazing, green city that it is!). In addition, my summer would not have been half as good as it was without the people who work for Friends of Trees. From long (but fun) days in the field to staff retreats to happy hours, thank you for making this an incredible summer internship!