Arbor Day Speaks For The Trees

By Julie Barnes, Master Gardener

In the month of April, Arbor Day is celebrated here in Pennsylvania. We recognize it as a day where people are encouraged to plant and care for trees. In the United States all states have an official Arbor Day observed on different dates to coincide with their area's optimal planting time for native trees. Florida and Louisiana celebrate it as early as January while Hawaii or South Carolina observes it as late as November or December. So, where did the idea come from for this tree dedicated holiday? And, if you decide to honor Arbor Day by planting a tree, what are points to consider.

Arbor Day originated through politician and journalist, Julius Sterling Morton. After moving from Detroit, Michigan to Nebraska in 1854 he encountered a place with wide open areas and virtually no trees. This shadeless prairie was really hot in the summer offering few windbreaks to prevent soil from blowing everywhere. After settling onto 160 treeless acres, Morton planted thousands of trees such as cottonwoods, evergreens, beeches, and fruit trees labeling his homestead the Morton "Ranche." He then decided to encourage other people into tree planting by spreading the word in speeches, or by using his newspaper editor position to extend agricultural information that emphasized trees. Morton declared, "People need to plant many, many trees as a blessing to the generations who should succeed us." At a Nebraska State Board of Agriculture meeting on January 4, 1872, he proposed a holiday to plant trees on April 10, 1872. This was known as the first "Arbor Day" where prizes were awarded to the counties and individuals who planted the most trees totaling up to about one million trees being introduced. By 1885, Arbor Day become a legal holiday in Nebraska and was celebrated on Morton's birthday of April 22. It was eventually changed to the last Friday in April where our state of Pennsylvania observes it as well. Originally, several members of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture favored calling this day Sylvan Day, which means "wooded" but Morton argued that sylvan refers only to forest trees and that the name Arbor Day was more inclusive, covering forest trees and fruit trees. Today, a wide range of events occur on this day including communal tree planting ceremonies, as well as educational activities where schools are encouraged to plan lessons around the theme of trees.

Some of us plant trees to celebrate an important event while others plant them for design interest, shade, wind protection, wildlife habitat, or for the fruit they will provide. A single, well placed tree will impact a yard more than any other landscaping item and is one of the biggest garden investments that can be made. It is therefore imperative to choose the right tree for the right place to ensure a prolonged lifespan of beauty, shade, and many other benefits. Proper growing conditions should guarantee that each tree always has potential for thee.

"Other holidays repose upon the past; Arbor Day proposes for the future."– Julius Sterling Morton