Arbor Day: A Little History

“Each generation takes the Earth as trustees.”—J. Sterling Morton

We all know Arbor Day as a day to plant, celebrate, and talk about trees. But how did this holiday begin? What some may associate with more modern environmental causes, the history of Arbor Day actually takes roots all the way back in 1872, and of all places, in Nebraska.

J. Sterling Morton was a pioneer, settling in Nebraska, and a strong advocate for trees. He recognized the need for trees in the Plains not simply to please the eye, but for windbreak, keeping soil in place, providing building materials and fuel, and of course, giving shade from the Mid-West sun.  He used his position as a journalist to advocate tree planting in his articles and editorials, and when he became Secretary of the Nebraska Territory, he utilized his platform to further encourage the value of trees.

In January 1872, Morton proposed Arbor Day, a tree-planting holiday, to the meeting of the State Board of Agriculture. They agreed and set the date on April 10, 1872. More than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on that day, with prizes going to the counties and individuals who planted the largest number of trees (properly of course).

Arbor Day was officially named a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1885. It was to be observed on April 22 in honor of J. Sterling Morton’s birthday.  Today, many states observe Arbor Day on the last Friday of April, but some observe the day depending on the best weather to plant trees. Whether you plant in January and February in the South US or in May in the Northern States, Arbor Day is certainly a day worth celebrating. For the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now. —Chinese Proverb

This article was written with information from www.arborday.org/celebrate/documents/history.pdf.