A historical black and white photo from the Arbor Day Foundation where a small boy is holding a shovel near a spruce tree that has just been planted

Arbor Day – Planting More Trees!

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Nebraska, the place where Arbor Day and the Arbor Day Foundation all began AND where I was born!  Every April, my family would get a tiny tree to plant in our yard that my sister and I would care for, hoping it would grow big and tall.  It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized that not everyone celebrates or even knows about Arbor Day, which saddened me. 

After all, what’s better than a holiday where you get to plant trees?!

I was thrilled when Better Place Forests announced that the Arbor Day Foundation would be our planting partner this year.  To get to work with a partner who has had such a positive impact on communities across the globe for so many years is exciting.

Special thanks to the Arbor Day Foundation for providing the following history and photos and I hope you’ll stop by our Impact page that details our planting partnership and environmental impact. 

1872 was the first year that Arbor Day was celebrated in the Nebraska Territory.  On April 10th, prizes were offered for the largest number of properly planted trees on that day, resulting in more than 1 million trees planted for the very first Arbor Day!  It soon became an official state holiday in Nebraska and it began to catch on in many other states as well. 

The whole celebration was driven by J. Sterling Morton (part of the Morton Salt family), a Nebraska newspaper editor and resident of Nebraska City, NE.  He had a passion for trees and strongly advocated for individuals and civic groups to plant them. Once he became secretary of the Nebraska Territory, he further spread his message of the importance of trees. Morton initially proposed a tree planting holiday called “Arbor Day” on January 4, 1872, at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture.

Nebraska History Collection: School children plant tree for Arbor Day program. Omaha Illustrated Bee, April 28, 1901.  Photo provided by the Arbor Day Foundation

Nebraska History Collection: School children plant tree for Arbor Day program. Omaha Illustrated Bee, April 28, 1901.  Photo provided by the Arbor Day Foundation

By 1920, over 45 states and territories were celebrating Arbor Day, and the tradition of planting trees became widespread in schools across the country in 1882. Schoolchildren learned about the importance of trees and received a tree to plant in their own yard.

History Nebraska Collection: Crowd at the dedication of the J Sterling Morton monument, Arbor Lodge, Nebraska City 1905.  Photo provided by the Arbor Day Foundation.

History Nebraska Collection: Crowd at the dedication of the J Sterling Morton monument, Arbor Lodge, Nebraska City 1905.  Photo provided by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Today, Arbor Day is mostly observed on the last Friday in April, but it does vary in some locations so that it’s at optimal planting time for the trees.  You can visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s interactive map to find out when it’s observed in your area.

If you ever happen to be passing through the Great Plains states, I hope you’ll take some time out to visit the Arbor Day Foundation’s campus in Nebraska City which is filled with interesting bits of history as well as a wide variety of trees.  The area is also home to several of the oldest and largest trees in the Great Plains.

One of the many groomed trails through the Arbor Day campus in Nebraska City, NE.

One of the many groomed trails through the Arbor Day campus in Nebraska City, NE.

Arbor Day is a unique holiday, as it represents the hope for a better future rather than commemorating a past event. This day is all about planting trees, as this simple act symbolizes the belief that the trees will grow and provide numerous benefits to the environment and communities. Trees are essential for clean air and water, cooling shade, wildlife habitat, healthier communities, and endless natural beauty, all of which contribute to a better tomorrow.

A family and their dog sit at the base of a memorial tree

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