Arbor Day is typically celebrated on the last Friday in April in the United States. Arbor Day translates to “tree” from the Latin origin of the word arbor and is a holiday that celebrated the planting, upkeep and preservation of trees.
The origins of Arbor Day dates back to the early 1870s in Nebraska City. A journalist by the name of Julius Sterling Morton moved to the state with his wife, Caroline, in 1854, a little more than 10 years before Nebraska gained its statehood in 1867. The couple purchased 160 acres in Nebraska City and planted a wide variety of trees and shrubs into a flat stretch of desolate plain.
Morton also became the editor of the state’s first newspaper, Nebraska City News, which was a perfect platform for Morton to spread his knowledge of tree. His message of tree life resonated with his readers.
On January 7, 1872, Morton proposed a day that would encourage all Nebraskans to plant trees in their community. Morton convinced everyone that the day should reflect the appreciation of all tree and thus Arbor Day was born.
With the seeds of interest already planted in the minds of devoted Nebraska City News readers, the first ever Arbor Day was held on April 10, 1872 and was a wild success. Morton led the charge in the planting of approximately 1 million trees. Enthusiasm and engagement was aided by the prizes awarded to those who planted trees correctly. The tradition quickly began to spread.
In 1882, schools across the country started to participate and more than a decade after its introduction, Arbor Day became an official state holiday in Nebraska in 1885. The date was chosen, because of its ideal weather for planting trees and in recognition of Morton’s birthday.
It wasn’t until 1970 that Arbor Day became recognized nationwide thanks to the efforts of President Richard Nixon. Although some states celebrate Arbor Day at different times of the year to ensure that the trees are in the best environment to thrive.
Celebrating Arbor Day is marked by planting trees and emphasizes caring for them as a way to sustainably protect the plant’s natural resources. People often dedicate trees to loves ones.
Morton’s words about Arbor Day resonate strongly today, as climate change becomes a growing threat: “Other holidays repose upon the past; Arbor Day proposed for the future.”