Planting seeds of love for nature

Sonora Elementary School third-grader Kyler Schumacher showed off a 3-inch seedling he'd just received in a small plastic pot.

He wasn't sure how long it would take, but he already decided he was going to help it grow until it was 50 feet tall.

He and his classmates, who were lined up on the blacktop Thursday morning, each got a prize for listening intently to a 20-minute Arbor Day ceremony: a tiny carrotwood tree seedling.

The Newport-Balboa Rotary Club gave the plants to every Sonora third-grade student in preparation for the annual day of tree planting.

The carrotwoods were just a few of the more than 2,500 seedlings the club handed out this week at 21 Newport-Mesa Unified School district public schools and 15 private schools in the area.

Local Rotarians have given students more than 120,000 trees in the 44 years it's been running the program, past President Bill Hossfeld said.

"That's 10 years longer than I've been alive," current President AJ Thielan told the hundreds of students gathered around him.

Hossfeld said he hasn't been able tear himself away from the program since 2005.

"I come back because I love the kids," he said. "It's a great opportunity for some kids to have some responsibility and maintain their tree."

In front of the school, sixth -grader Teak Zachary helped shovel dirt around a 10-foot flame tree planted earlier that morning.

It will add fire-red blossoms to other foliage Rotarians have planted at Sonora in past years.

"They're getting pretty big," Teak said, up to 25 feet tall.

Back on the blacktop, third-grader Stephen Belmontes had already picked out the seedling he hoped would eclipse that height.

"I'm going to plant it in my back yard and water it and take care of it," he said.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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