Arbor Day: History and Observances

Arbor Day: History and Observances

The last Friday in April is National Arbor Day. As a celebration of trees and nature, it’s a great time not just to appreciate our environment, but also to have a hand in improving it. Almost 130 years old, the history of Arbor Day is tied largely to one man’s passion for the Earth, and his legacy is carried forth to this day thanks to nationwide observance of the holiday.

Arbor Day history
Julius Sterling Morton is the main driving force behind the creation and development of the Arbor Day holiday. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, Morton was originally a New York native who moved to Nebraska with his wife in 1854. An avid nature enthusiast, Morton was a huge proponent of planting trees for both aesthetic and practical purposes; not only were trees pleasing to the Nebraska settlers, they also helped keep soil in place, making for easier farming.

Morton was a journalist and politician, serving as both editor of a prominent newspaper and acting governor of the state, and was known for using his public platforms to espouse the importance of trees to the environment. By 1885, Arbor Day was recognized as a legal holiday in Nebraska, and the rest of the country followed suit within 20 years. In recognition of his drive and passion for nature, president Cleveland appointed Morton U.S. secretary of agriculture in 1893.

Join the celebration
Celebrations of the original Arbor Day holidays consisted of grand parades and speeches, but you can enjoy a more low-key observance of the day just as well. If you have access to a garden or other type of green space, you can carry on Morton’s spirit of the holiday by planting a tree, shrub or flower box. Arbor Day is a great time to increase your appreciation of nature by taking a hike through a nearby park or wooded area. You can even turn the holiday into a social event by holding a picnic or get-together in an outdoor park.

Even if you aren’t able to take part in the tree-planting festivities, you can still observe Arbor Day in a meaningful way. As much a holiday about education as it is reflection, it’s a perfect opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of trees and green spaces in our environment, both for yourself and for others. For those with young grandchildren, using the opportunity to spend quality time with them to educate them about the history and importance of the day can also be a significant and welcome bonding experience.