Most people would probably be able to tell you – especially in Austin - that Arbor Day deals with trees in some way, and some might even be able to tell you that it’s a day of celebrating trees and planting them. But when I got to wondering about how Arbor Day came about, I realized that it wasn’t something that many people could tell me. So…I decided to do a little research. The way that this celebration came about was really surprising to me. To think that it was accomplished in the 1800’s is awe-inspiring. I wanted to share with our readers, so below is a brief history on how Arbor Day came into being.
Arbor Day is an annual celebration that highlights the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care. As a formal holiday, it was first observed in 1872, in Nebraska, but tree planting festivals are as old as civilization.
Trees have appeared throughout history and literature as the symbol of life. The idea for Arbor Day in the United States originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska. Among the pioneers moving into the Nebraska Territory in 1854 was Julius Sterling Morton from Detroit. He and his wife, Caroline, were lovers of nature, and the home they established in Nebraska was quickly planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Morton was a journalist and soon became editor of Nebraska’s first newspaper. Given that forum, he spread agricultural information and his enthusiasm for trees to a receptive audience. His fellow pioneers missed their trees and needed them for windbreaks, fuel, building materials and shade from the hot prairie sun. It was the lack of trees there that led to the founding of Arbor Day in the 1800s.
Morton wrote and spoke about environmental stewardship and the interrelatedness of life. He encouraged everyone to set aside a specific day to plant trees. In 1872, the State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” The Board declared April 10 Arbor Day and offered prizes to the counties and individuals that properly planted the largest number of trees on that day. More than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. With this first tree planting holiday observance, J. Sterling Morton became known as the “Founder of Arbor Day.”
Shortly after this 1872 observance, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day each year with appropriate ceremonies. By 1920, more than 45 states and territorial possessions were celebrating Arbor Day.
Today, Arbor Day is celebrated in all fifty states. Throughout the world, people of all ages are planting trees, caring for them and learning their value.
• In the United States, this tree planting festival is called Arbor Day
• In Israel, it is called the New Year’s Day of the Trees
• Korea has a Tree-Loving Week
• Iceland has a Student’s Afforestation Day
• Yugoslavia holds an Arbor Day in the spring and an Afforestation Day in the fall
• India celebrates a National Festival of Tree Planting
Most holidays celebrate something that has already happened and is worth remembering like the day someone was born or a religious holiday celebrating a past event. Arbor Day reflects a hope for the future. The trees planted on Arbor Day show a concern for future generations. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow and, some day, provide wood products, wildlife habitat, erosion control, shelter from the wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for ourselves and our children.