Trees are a powerful part of environmental well being, and that’s not exactly breaking news. Arbor Day may not have a singular observed day around the world—through most places observe it on the last Friday of April—but it’s one of the oldest environmental holidays still celebrated.
The first Arbor Day
The origins of Arbor Day can be traced to 1802 when a priest from the small Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra organized a tree planting to beautify the village. It would be over 50 years, however, until such a movement came stateside.
Arbor Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1872. J Sterling Morton, a politician and magazine editor, rallied Nebraskans to plant over one million trees across the state, a remarkable feat considering the state’s population was only about 120,000. There’s no record of whether they utilized the campaign slogan “8 trees for every Nebraskan!” but hopefully they did.
Growing into a nationwide movement
In years since, Arbor Day has grown to include a breadth of planting events, from community-centric plantings to large-scale reforestry efforts at national parks, like the one organized in the wake of the Yellowstone fires of 1988. From 1990 to 2010, the Arbor Day Foundation (the nonprofit organization in charge of U.S. Arbor Day projects) planted 20 million trees in U.S. national parks. The foundation will continue planting trees in years to come in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.
In 2008, the Arbor Day Foundation launched Tree Campus USA, a program that recognizes colleges and universities for following best tree care practices. Check out the complete list of Tree Campus USA schools to see if your alma mater is recognized.
While Arbor Day has grown to encompass nationwide projects, it is still a grassroots (or treeroots) movement at heart. To donate, volunteer or just get in touch with the Arbor Day Foundation, head to their Take Action page. Here you can find an Arbor Day project in your area in need of volunteers, and if you happen to be busy this month, that’s OK—year-round projects are often in need of help, too.
Current projects include revitalizing the Lost Pines Forest of Bastrop, Texas, which was ravaged by wildfires in 2011; another is centered around replanting in Joplin, Mo., a city destroyed by a powerful tornado that claimed 160 lives.
If you’re a do-it-yourself type and would prefer to simply plant a tree or two in your backyard, that works, too. Check out our post “What can trees do for me?” on the benefits of residential planting and how to go about selecting an appropriate type of tree. Happy planting!
Let us know how you’re celebrating Arbor Day 2014—leave a comment below.