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Arbor Day History: One Tree at a Time

Where did National Arbor Day originate? Many might jump to the conclusion of a forested land such as Northern California, the mountains of Colorado, or the hills and valleys of the Smokey Mountains.

Yet, these are all incorrect. Arbor Day originated in the Great Plains state of Nebraska, where the prairie grasses wisp in the wind, farmers plow their corn, and ranchers push their cattle.

Arbor Day History

Arbor Day history begins in the middle of the 19th century. Among the pioneers that ventured west during the 19th century was J. Sterling Morton. In 1854, Morton and his wife arrived in present day Nebraska. Upon arrival, they were greeted with the vast plains. Previously from the Michigan area, they were accustom to vegetation and forested lands and soon began planting trees and vegetation.

As a journalist, Morton realized the importance of trees and spread the word about agriculture to his reading audience. Pioneers to this new, vast land were accustom to a variety of vegetation and were not used to this new, exposed land of the Great Plains. They missed trees and recognized their importance as windbreaks, shade on the hot prairie, fuel, and supply for building materials as well as keeping soil in place.

As Morton continued to encourage the importance of trees, he gained the position as Secretary of the Nebraska Territory. On January 4, 1872, Morton proposed Arbor Day.

A retired Connecticut clergyman, Birdsey Northrop, globalized Arbor Day when he visited Japan in 1883 and delivered his Arbor Day and Village Improvement message. Northrop was made the Chairman of the American Forestry Association to campaign for Arbor Day nationwide.

Today, states generally observe Arbor Day on the last Friday in April; however, some states will observe the day at different times according to what is best for tree planting.


Trees offer more than a colorful landscape, they are crucial for our health, agriculture, and the environment.


National Arbor Day in the 21st Century.

 The National Arbor Foundation formed in 1972 and distributes 10 million trees annually while collaborating with the National Forest Service to replant forests. If you are planning on planting a tree this Arbor Day, consider the following guidelines:

• Bark must be bright and healthy.
• Strong branches (wide angle branches).
• Spacing between branched should be 8-12 inches.
• Moist and fibrous roots.

Trees are more than just a shady spot on a hot summer day. Planting a tree is beneficial in more ways than one:

• Trees increase property values up to 15% in some areas.
• Trees clean odors and pollutants from the air and replace them with oxygen.
• Animals are provided with a natural habitat.
• Water runoff is limited.
• Provide cooling in summer and act as windbreaks in winter.
• When strategically placed on property, can cut summer air-conditioning bills by 50%.

Whether you plant a tree with your child this Arbor Day, or make a pledge to plant more through the years to come, Arbor Day is a nationally recognized holiday that nourishes our Earth. It is a holiday where we honor our land, respect nature, and vow to be eco-friendly for years to come.

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