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Rotary History

Friendship Trees: Paul Harris’ Lasting Symbol of Goodwill

As Rotary’s president emeritus, Paul Harris traveled extensively during the 1920s and 1930s, often accompanied by his wife, Jean. During these trips, the nature-loving Harris planted trees to symbolize goodwill and friendship. 

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Paul Harris and members of the Rotary Club of Tallinn, Estonia, at a tree planting in 1932.

In the fall of 1932, Harris embarked on a five-week tour of European Rotary clubs and planted trees along the way. 

“Wednesday forenoon I planted my first tree of friendship in European soil. It seemed to me especially appropriate that it took place in Germany — in its metropolis — Berlin. The planting occurred in a sports platz formerly devoted to war purposes, and a large number including Rotarians, city officials, and others were in attendance.” 

Ever since, Rotarians have planted trees in the name of fellowship, friendship, and community service. These trees, which can be found worldwide, have grown into enduring monuments of Rotary’s ideals. 

Later in his tour of Europe, Harris also planted trees in Estonia, Norway, and Sweden.

Planting trees became a hallmark of his travels, including in Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand. In “My Road to Rotary,” Harris recalled, “With the cooperation of Rotarians and local governments, I have planted friendship trees in the parks and playgrounds on five continents of the world and even on some of the major islands of the seas. Our trees stood as symbols of international understanding and good-will.” 

Other Rotary presidents also observed the tradition. In 1931-32, then-RI president Sydney W. Pascall planted trees at the sites of Rotary clubs he visited, reportedly at Paul Harris’ suggestion. 

Not all of the trees were planted outside the United States. The Harrises often entertained visiting Rotarians and dignitaries in their Chicago home and planted trees with their guests to mark the occasion. They called the garden their Friendship Garden. 

Rotarians continue to plant trees to symbolize enduring friendships and fellowship, to beautify parks and communities, and to contribute to a greener world.

Paul Harris plants a tree with members of the Rotary Club of Göteborg, Sweden, in this silent video from 1932.

  1. Paul Harris plants a friendship tree in Lakeland, Florida, USA, in 1942.

  2. Paul Harris plants a tree in Tokyo, in 1935.

  3. Paul and Jean Harris and others at a tree planting in Rio de Janeiro, in 1936.

  4. Paul Harris plants a friendship tree in Long Beach, California, USA. 1941.

  5. Paul Harris at a tree planting in Bergen, Norway. 1932.