Article from the National Arbor Day Foundation
Full credit for this content to the National Arbor Day Foundation

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates 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.  The tree has appeared throughout history and literature as the symbol of life.

J. Sterling Morton and the First Arbor Day

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 the 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.  A visit to Nebraska today wouldn’t disclose that the state was once a treeless plain.  Yet 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 as 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.

The Spread of a Good Idea

Shortly after this 1882 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

The National Arbor Day Foundation continues to perpetuate the Arbor Day vision through its million members and its programs.

Each year, the Foundation ships millions of seedlings to members, community groups and civic organizations through its Trees for America program.  The Celebrate Arbor Day! Program provides educational materials and curriculum kits to schools across America.  These materials help to introduce and educate hundreds of thousands of the next generation’s stewards to the importance of tree planting and care.

Tree City USA encourages responsible care of the community forest.  Conversation Trees advocates wise environmental stewardship of the family farm.

Rainforest Rescue offers Foundation members an opportunity to contribute to the conservation and preservation of Latin American rain forests.

Arbor Day Farm’s demonstration plantings, tour programs, classes, workshops and Lied Conference Center’s conferences and meetings offer an opportunity to visit Nebraska City, Nebraska and share J. Sterling Morton’s vision.  They also give participants and visitors a chance to consider the future and make a personal commitment to tree planting, tree care, and wise environmental stewardship.

Lied Conference Center at Arbor Day Farm
Nebraska City, Nebraska