Rotarians have planted trees in the name of fellowship, friendship, and community service since the early 20th century. These trees, which can be found worldwide, have grown into enduring monuments of Rotary’s ideals.
As president emeritus, 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.
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.”
Harris also planted trees in Tallinn, Estonia, and Göteborg, Sweden, during this trip.
Planting trees soon became a hallmark of his travels, including in Australia, Brazil, Estonia, 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 RI 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’s suggestion.
Not all of the trees were planted outside the United States. The Harrises often entertained visiting Rotarians and dignitaries in their home, Comely Bank, and planted trees with their guests to mark the occasion. They called the garden their Friendship Garden.
Today, Rotarians continue to plant trees to symbolize enduring friendships and fellowship, to beautify parks and communities, and to contribute to a greener world.