Side with the trees on Arbor Day

We need trees to live, but all trees ask of us is to stop destroying them. We are SUCH dummies about our planet, man.

Sometimes overlooked by Earth Day–its giant, close-proximity holiday-cousin, Arbor Day has been around a lot longer (almost exactly 100 years longer, in fact). 

Not that we have to choose one or the other–we should be majorly celebrating any day that involves caring for the planet (there’s an International Day of Forests, too! Mark your calendars for March 21st!). But Arbor Day’s public profile should continue to grow, as our environment needs more trees, now more than ever.

A little history

J. Sterling Morton, the editor of Nebraska City News, had moved his family into the Nebraska territory in 1854. Turns out, there aren’t a lot of trees in that plains-y state. He proposed Arbor Day as a way to encourage other residents across the territory to get to plantin’, knowing that the trees would not only help with soil erosion, but would be incredibly useful for fuel, building materials, shade, and even just improving the view.

On the first American Arbor Day,1 April 10th, 1872, about a million trees were planted in Nebraska, and by 1885, when it became an official holiday, more than 1,000 schoolchildren marched around in a huge celebration in Nebraska City, culminating in a talk by J. Sterling (as he was known) himself.

Originally, Arbor Day was set for April 22nd (Morton’s birthday)2 to honor its founder, but was eventually shifted to the last Friday of April. In some states, the date changes for optimal planting weather. An amazingly named guy, Birdsey Northrop, started a global trend by lecturing about the importance of trees, Arbor Day, and the environment in general on a trip to Japan. Now, tons of countries celebrate Arbor Day. 

But do any of us do enough?

We we should care

Prabir Mehta, who blogs for the Science Museum of Virginia and who’s organized the Arbor Day benefit concert at the Pumphouse, thinks a ton about trees! If you even mention Arbor Day to him, you will get an earful of useful information. 

“They fill the world with oxygen and literally changed the entire planet’s climate in under a 1/16th of the time they’ve existed on this planet,” he reminds us all. “It’s taken us about that long to impact it as well, but you know…we are doing it the other way. There are some that say that humans are the balancing force against the trees. The Earth will return to zero once we un-do the work that trees have done in the last several hundred million years.”

So bleak! Yet so true. 

To be further convinced on the coolness of trees, check out Mehta’s pieces about how trees help each other, how trees may be the key to solar power, and why we can and should be lazy about raking up our leaves. Also, learn things from this list of just ten of trees’ impacts on our lives.

And don’t forget today–or any other day–that our actions have been undoing the good work of trees for millennia. But working with the trees, not against them, CAN help build it all back up! 

Visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s program page for advice and instructions on how to be a good environmental steward by helping out trees, who will return the favor.

  1. The actual first Arbor Day took place in a little village in Spain called Villanueva de la Sierra in 1805. 
  2. And, confusingly, Earth Day–at least since 1970. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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