The History of Arbor Day

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Arbor Day is a nationally-celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and tree care. Founded by J. Sterling Morton, National Arbor Day is celebrated each year on the last Friday in April.

Today, all fifty states and many Canadian provinces celebrate this holiday every spring, although the actual date of Arbor Day varies from state-to-state due to differences in climate.

Arbor Day celebrations began in Nebraska in 1872. Nebraska, along with other Great Plains states, had almost no trees at the time. Still, the region grew flourishing agricultural crops and the climate was suitable for growing trees.

J. Sterling Morton believed Nebraska needed more trees. He sponsored a campaign for tree planting in Nebraska, setting aside April 10 for just that purpose. It is estimated that on this inaugural Arbor Day, Nebraskans celebrated by planting more than one million trees.

Morton, an ardent proponent of forestation, lobbied for a holiday to encourage the planting of trees. According to the National Arbor Day Foundation, counties and individuals that planted the most trees were awarded prizes.

In 1885, thirteen years after Arbor Day was first celebrated, Nebraskans changed the date to April 22nd in honor of Morton’s birthday. By 1907, Arbor Day was observed in every state in the Union, principally through school programs. Through these celebrations, schoolchildren were urged to consider the planting of a tree as a patriotic, even pious, act, as well as a sound investment and a contribution to community aesthetics.

Visit for additional information and tips on how to celebrate Arbor Day.