Arbor Day

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Arbor Day

Type of Holiday: Promotional
Date of Observation: Varied, but usually last Friday in April
Where Celebrated: Puerto Rico, United States, and many countries around the world
Symbols and Customs: Trees
Related Holidays: Earth Day, Tu Bishvat


Known as the "Father of Arbor Day," Julius Sterling Morton settled on the treeless plains of Nebraska in 1855, where he edited the Nebraska City News and developed a lifelong interest in new agricultural methods. Believing that the prairie needed more TREES to serve as windbreaks, to hold moisture in the soil, and to provide lumber for housing, Morton began planting trees and urged his neighbors to do the same. When he joined the State Board of Agriculture, he proposed that a specific day be set aside for the planting of trees and that a prize be offered to the individual who planted the largest number of trees on that day. A million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, and 350 million more were planted within the next sixteen years. In 1895 Nebraska became known as the Tree Planter's State, although today it is more commonly referred to as the Cornhusker State or the Beef State. Nebraskans still honor Morton, who served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland from 1893 to 1897, on April 22, the anniversary of his birth.

The observation of what came to be known as Arbor Day was widespread throughout the United States between the 1880s and World War II, when schools and communities would routinely hold tree-planting ceremonies. All fifty states still have an official Arbor Day-usually the last Friday in April. A few states call it Arbor and Bird Day, emphasizing the planting of trees and shrubs that are attractive to birds. And every year on this day the president or the first lady plants a special tree on the grounds of the White House in Washington DC. But most of the activities associated with Arbor Day take place in the public schools, where there are pageants, music, poetry, bulletin board displays, and discussions about the importance of trees. Although Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, civic organizations, conservation groups, and service clubs occasionally hold tree-planting ceremonies on Arbor Day, for the most part the importance of trees has been replaced by concern for the environment in general. In fact, since 1970, Arbor Day has been eclipsed in many parts of the United States by EARTH DAY observances on April 22. Still, many countries around the world have created their own Arbor Day celebrations.

Arbor Day Celebrations in Other Countries

Australia: National Tree Day has been promoted by Planet Ark, a non-profit organization based in Sydney, since 1996. It is observed each year on the last Sunday in July, when hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the nation plant trees and shrubs. Planet Ark also organizes School Tree Day on the last Friday of July to encourage school children to plant trees and shrubs at their schools.

China and Taiwan: Arbor Day is observed on or near March 12, the anniversary of the death of Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the first provisional president of the Republic of China. Each year tree-planting ceremonies and festivals are held throughout the country.

United Kingdom: The Tree Council, based in London, has organized National Tree Week since 1975. Each year during the last week in November, dozens of communities throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland host events centered on tree planting.



Trees are the original and most enduring symbol of Arbor Day. Although tree planting was widely associated with Johnny Appleseed, who planted thousands of apple seeds between 1801 and 1845 throughout Ohio and Indiana, there is no question that Julius Morton was the one who popularized the idea of planting trees and who established a special day for doing so. Today, trees are symbolic of the conservation movement in general. On Arbor Day, trees are planted along roads and public highways, in parks and community forests, on the grounds of state capitols and school buildings, and on all types of public and private property for both ornamental and practical purposes. Trees have also been planted as memorials to outstanding Americans and in honor of various social causes, such as AIDS awareness. The National Arbor Day Foundation offers new members ten free trees if they join the organization.


Christianson, Stephen G., and Jane M. Hatch. The American Book of Days. 4th ed. New York: H.W. Wilson, 2000. Cohen, Hennig, and Tristram Potter Coffin. The Folklore of American Holidays. 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Schaun, George and Virginia, and David Wisniewski. American Holidays and Special Days. 3rd ed. Lanham: Maryland Historical Press, 2002. Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Consumer Rites: The Buying and Selling of American Holidays. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.


National Arbor Day Foundation

Planet Ark (Australia)

The Tree Council (United Kingdom)

Arbor Day

Last Friday in April
Julius Sterling Morton (1832-1902), one of the earliest American conservationists, settled on the treeless plains of Nebraska in 1855, where he edited the Nebraska City News and developed a lifelong interest in new agricultural methods. Believing that the prairie needed more trees to serve as windbreaks, to hold moisture in the soil, and to provide lumber for housing, Morton began planting trees and urged his neighbors to do the same. On April 10, 1872, when he first proposed that a specific day be set aside for the planting of trees, the response was overwhelming: a million trees were planted in Nebraska on that day alone.
All 50 states now observe Arbor Day—usually on the last Friday in April—and the idea has spread to other countries as well. Most observances take place in the public schools, where the value of trees is discussed and trees and shrubs are planted. At the White House, the president, first lady, or a presidential designate plants a special tree on the grounds each year on Arbor Day. But it is in Nebraska City, Nebraska, that Morton is best remembered as the originator of Arbor Day, with celebrations taking place on or near his birthday, April 22. A special ceremony is held at Arbor Lodge, Morton's homestead and one of the earliest known attempts at conservation and beautification in America.
Some states call this day Bird and Arbor Day, emphasizing the planting of trees that are attractive to birds.
The National Arbor Day Foundation
100 Arbor Ave.
Nebraska City, NE 68410
888-448-7337 or 402-474-5655; fax: 402-474-0820
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 303
AnnivHol-2000, p. 66, 72
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 86
BkHolWrld-1986, Apr 24
DictDays-1988, p. 5
GdUSFest-1984, p. 109
References in periodicals archive ?
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Gemborys and DPW workers Peter Beaulac and Joe Dalbec in planting a 15-foot tree in front of Town Hall on Arbor Day.
Mary Widhelm, Tree Campus USA program coordinator, says that to be considered, institutions must prove they have the following five standards in place: a tree advisory committee, a tree care plan, dedicated annual expenditures, an Arbor Day observance, and a service learning project.
Details: Arbor Day Planning Chair Louise Seals at (804) 389-8798 or Louise.
Members also receive a subscription to the foundation's bimonthly publication, Arbor Day, and The Tree Book, which includes information about tree planting and care.
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