Pacific Rim
April 20, 2023 | wine | Pacific Rim

How did Arbor Day Start?

Arbor Day is now recognized as a global event in many nations. Arbor Day is most notably commemorated by planting trees. How did Arbor Day start? Arbor Day is not a recent idea but was first proposed by J. Sterling Morton (an editor of a Nebraska newspaper) in the 19th century. Morton wrote, “Other holidays repose upon the past; Arbor Day proposes for the future.” For those of us in the wine (and wine-grape-growing) business, we can fully appreciate arbor day.

arbor day in the palm of a hand


Morton frequently wrote articles on agriculture and shared his love for greenery and plants with readers. At the time of his writings, Nebraska had relatively few trees, and Morton repeatedly suggested that a day off would encourage the citizens of the state to plant trees. Besides the trees serving as windbreaks and protecting crops from erosion, they would also provide building material and fuel, and, of course, be a nice place to sit or lay in shade from the sun.


How did Arbor Day start? Morton’s idea of a holiday was finally accepted on April 10, 1872, and the first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska with the planting of nearly one million trees. Two years later, Nebraska Governor Robert Furnas proclaimed Arbor Day a state holiday, and, in 1885, it became official.

Soon, other states followed suit, establishing Arbor Day as a holiday, and, in 1885, Nebraska declared Morton’s birthday, April 22, as the official date of the holiday. What plans for Arbor Day have been made since then? Within a few decades, schools and many public institutions all over the nation started observing Arbor Day by planting trees.

By the early 1920s, Arbor Day was celebrated in more than 45 US states, and, since then, tree planting has become a tradition in most schools.


Today, Arbor Day is frequently observed on the last Friday in April, though several states have changed the date so that it concurs with the ideal weather conditions to plant trees. For example, in the Sunshine State, Arbor Day is celebrated very early during the year - usually the third Friday in January, whereas in Alaska, it is observed on the third month in May. Most schools and other public institutions follow the date recommended by the state.


Plans for Arbor Day include, naturally, planting trees, and lots of them!  You could also plan an Arbor Day birthday party in your community to celebrate trees and make others aware of the importance of trees.  Or you could have a “find the oldest tree in the neighborhood contest” and maybe get a book about trees to give to the winner as a prize.


Besides the US, Arbor Day is celebrated around the world. But the date of observance and even the names are different. In Australia, it is called National Schools’ Tree Day and is observed on the last Friday in July, and, in the UK, it is called National Tree Week, which is usually celebrated at the end of November.

How did Arbor Day start? No matter what day it is celebrated or what nation observes Arbor Day, the goal is to plant as many trees as possible. What plans for Arbor Day can be made to celebrate? To encourage schools to plant trees, there are prizes offered to individuals and schools who properly plant the highest number of trees on that particular day.


Over the past three decades, there has been a marked resurgence in the planting of trees and plants but not because of the philosophical sentiments expressed by Morton but because of links between conservation, nature, and mental health. A significant number of studies have revealed a good correlation between greenery and mental and physical health. The environment has been neglected for many years, and now people realize that green space is important not only for good health but for the earth’s survival. How did Arbor Day start? With thoughtfulness on the part of a good citizen who understood the need for trees to be replenished.


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