Arbor Day :: Celebrating History and Trees


For us here in Nebraska, we tend to have a soft spot for Arbor Day. After all, the first American Arbor Day was celebrated just down the road in Nebraska City.

But what really is Arbor Day?

How did it come into being? Why is it important? Well, I’m here to tell you, that way when your child asks, you’re prepared.

Arbor Day

In 1854, J. Sterling Morton and his family moved from Michigan to Nebraska, back when Nebraska was still a territory. In essence, he moved from a region rich in trees to one devoid of them. He strongly encouraged tree-planting to improve the landscape and attract fellow settlers. In April of 1872, he celebrated the first Arbor Day. It is estimated one million trees were planted. That’s enough trees to fill 12,000 football fields!

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an “Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States.” Since then, schools have been educating youth about the importance of trees, the prevalence of deforestation, and the balance needed for sustainability.  

We of the older generation can get along with what we have…but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied and man so thoughtless destroyed…
—Theodore Roosevelt

The Arbor Day Foundation was founded in 1972 to mark the centennial of the first Arbor Day. Based out of Nebraska City, this foundation has become the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to trees. Members receive ten free trees to either plant in their yard, send to a friend, have planted in a threatened rain forest, or planed in one of our nation’s forests. In the last 26 years, the Arbor Day Foundation has planted over 60 million trees in our nation’s forests.

Think about that: 60 million trees.

Trees used for watershed restoration in which 180 million Americans rely on for drinking water. Trees used for wildfire rehabilitation like the devastating fires in California last year. Trees for soil stabilization to help reduce floods and mudslides. Trees for wildlife restoration and to increase habitats for one-third of all federally listed threatened or endangered species. Trees for storm damage recovery, such as tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri in 2012. Trees to promote air quality by removing pollution from the atmosphere. Trees to combat climate change by sequestering 50 million metric tons of carbon each year.

That’s a lot of trees. That’s a lot of good reasons.

So, what is Arbor Day? It’s a day set aside to celebrate and plant trees. A day to recognized that without trees, the human race could not survive. A day to take the time, go outside, and appreciate the air we breathe and plant a tree.

Celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the Nation’s need for trees will become serious. 
—Theodore Roosevelt

Visit the Arbor Day Foundation for more information on becoming a member.