Our Story

Trees: The Crown of the Queen City

Once known for its cotton mills and gold mines, Charlotte has now become synonymous with its natural beauty and spectacular canopy of trees. As a result of growth and development in recent decades, the canopy is in need of an infusion of focused planting, restoration, and education. TreesCharlotte was born out of this commitment to preserving and expanding the most precious natural resource of our City.

City of Trees

The City of Charlotte earned the moniker, “The City of Trees”, through wise decisions made over the years to invest in, maintain, and protect our tree canopy. Charlotte’s tree canopy is one of the finest urban forests in America, and it is our most recognized and treasured natural resource. The canopy defines our City and provides benefits to everyone.

TreesCharlotte was created as a public/private collaboration dedicated to planting trees, primarily through volunteer efforts, and has since established itself as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. TreesCharlotte also educates Charlotte’s residents on the importance of the canopy and ways to plant and preserve trees. Among the myriad benefits, trees clean our air, ease storm water run-off, reduce our energy usage, cool our streets, parks, and homes, increase property values, and provide natural beauty that is the envy of cities across the world.

Unfortunately, our urban forest is old, fragile and depleting. In recognition of the canopy’s importance, the Charlotte City Council adopted a bold tree canopy coverage goal of 50% by 2050. Achieving this goal calls for planting 500,000 trees over the coming decades. This season, TreesCharlotte will plant or give away over 4,000 trees at 18 different planting events in neighborhoods and schools, give away more than 1,000 at two Citywide TreeStores and distribute an additional 5,000 to 7,000 seedlings. TreesCharlotte also supports reforesting efforts that plant thousands of small trees in natural areas. TreesCharlotte is an unparalleled civic engagement initiative that will help build stronger neighborhoods and communities.

TreesCharlotte was launched with generous leadership and support from The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Foundation For The Carolinas, and the Blumenthal Foundation. More recent supporters include Carolinas HealthCare System, Cato Corporation, Crescent Communities, The Dowd Foundation, Duke Energy Foundation, Harris Family Foundation, James Family Foundation, the Kardous family, Rotary District 7680, and Wells Fargo. TreesCharlotte is affiliated with Foundation For The Carolinas and is overseen by the TreesCharlotte Foundation Board. The Board provides strategic oversight to the collaborative and raises private capital to plant trees. The Board is co-chaired by Marcia Simon and Johnny Harris.

Inspiration for Aspiration

A 2008 aerial analysis revealed a 3% loss of the tree canopy over a seven-year period due to mortality, natural events, and development. Recognizing the need to preserve a tree canopy that is “Charlotte’s most recognized natural treasure”, the City Council adopted in 2011 a community goal of 50% canopy by 2050. To this end, TreesCharlotte was founded as the primary engine for achieving this objective. City Council members noted that the task calls for broad civic engagement, and it is largely through community groups and volunteers that TreesCharlotte will seek to expand the canopy.

2008 Aerial Analysis

  • Build-out under existing zoning (as of 2008) may reduce canopy coverage to <45%.
  • Unknowns: impact of the ordinance, private efforts, mortality, future development
  • The weight of evidence suggests a need to grow the canopy by 5%, or 500,000 trees by 2050, to reach 50%.

Canopy Numbers – Conclusions

  • Expanding the canopy by 5% means planting 500,000 trees, or “canopying” 12,000 acres. Spread over 20 years, this requires planting 25,000 trees per year.
  • Prior to 2008, 10,000 trees were being planted by the City and limited volunteer efforts. There is a need to plant about 15,000 more trees each year.
  • Aerial analysis should be conducted every 3 years to monitor programs and allow for adjustments.
  • There is insufficient public land to meet planting needs.
  • Residential subdivisions hold the most planting potential.

Planting the Seeds for TreesCharlotte

TreesCharlotte Director Dave Cable engaged with Catawba Lands Conservancy in late 2011 to develop a non-regulatory, collaborative program capable of meeting the 50% canopy goal. This six-month study reached the following conclusions:

  • Program should be a public/private collaborative; not a government project
  • Public funding of current street tree efforts should be maintained
  • Establish volunteer tree planting programs and conduct a successful neighborhood tree planting pilot project
  • Must be able to attract and leverage private capital
  • Pursue age to energy saving program with Duke Energy

This study was made possible through a public/private partnership with the City of Charlotte and a generous grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Merging of Parallel Efforts

The TreesCharlotte collaborative evolved from a May 2012 Action Summit. At this conference, the Foundation for the Carolinas endorsed the plan, and a City partnership commitment was established to form TreesCharlotte. Below is a timeline of events that brought about this collaboration:

City of Charlotte

  • April 2010: Canopy Analysis
  • June 2010: Increased funding for trees
  • June 2011: Council adopts 50% by 2050
  • Nov 2011: Study commissioned & funded
  • July 2012: Council unanimously endorses TreesCharlotte

Knight Foundation Canopy Committee

    • June 2010: Canopy Committee gathers
    • Fall 2010: Workgroup drafts plan
    • February 2011: TreesCharlotte plan ratified
    • November 2011: Study commissioned & funded
    • April 2012: Branding committee creates logo
    • July 2012: Knight Foundation makes leadership gift to TreesCharlotte

Benefits of Trees

Trees provide cleaner air and water, lower energy costs, increase property values, cool our streest, create stronger communities and beautify our city. More benefits can be found in this article.