Julius Sterling Morton was a journalist who moved from Detroit to Nebraska with his wife in 1854. Morton and his wife were great admirers of nature and began to surround their home with newly planted trees, shrubs, and flowers. Morton soon became the editor of a Nebraskan newspaper wherein he advocated for the importance of nature and spread information about agriculture in articles and editorials. He encouraged not only his readers to plant trees, but local civic organizations and groups to join in as well. Morton rose to prominence in the area and was named secretary of the Nebraska territory. As secretary, he proposed a holiday to the State Board of Agriculture that would center around planting trees. The holiday named “Arbor Day” was to take place on April 10th, 1872 and offer incentives to counties and individuals such as prizes for most trees planted. The first Arbor Day was a great success in Nebraska resulting in an estimated million trees planted.
Throughout the 1870s, legislation was passed to observe Arbor Day in other states, and schools across the country started to uphold the tradition in 1882. In 1885, Arbor Day was named a legal holiday in Nebraska. Morton’s birthday, April 22nd was chosen as the day of observance. Students in different grades assembled that morning to plant trees. Trees were labeled with the grade that planted it and it would then be their responsibility to care for that tree. After planting the trees, 1,000 students formed a parade where they carried colorful banners from their different schools to the Nebraska City’s Opera House where many other townspeople were present. Morton addressed the packed opera house with a rousing speech, and the day ended with the song “America” being performed by the students.
Trees are vital to all living things. They provide oxygen, improve air quality, help conserve water, preserve soil, and support wildlife. During the process of photosynthesis, trees take in carbon dioxide and produce the oxygen we breathe.
Arbor Day is most commonly observed on the last Friday of April, but can be celebrated on different days in some American states and other parts of the world depending on climate and what the most optimal time for planting is. Deforestation has created long term damage on our environment and Arbor Day continues to carry great importance due to the awareness it raises about the vital role that trees have in our world.
Whether it be in your own garden or as part of a tree planting event, to educate yourself or others about the benefits derived from trees, or recycling for the good of the environment, or using arts in crafts with children to creatively display trees' importance are all wonderful ways to celebrate Arbor Day!
Join The Arts @ Henson-Parks Inc. at Queens Botanical Garden's 2017 Arbor Day Festival. We will be utilizing arts and crafts to help spread the message of replanting and replenishing our environment.
BY KRIS S.
Contributing from New York