On April 29, 2016, Americans celebrate Arbor Day, a holiday set aside to recognize the importance of trees to the world around us.
When Is Arbor Day Celebrated?
Nationally, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April, which just happens to fall on April 29 in 2016. Some states observe the holiday on other dates that are more appropriate for tree planting based on local weather patterns. Florida, for example, celebrates the holiday on the third Friday in January, which falls at a time of the year more appropriate for planting trees in that state's semitropical climate.
Who Originated the Holiday in the United States?
Nebraska proudly lays claim to being the birthplace of Arbor Day. J. Sterling Morton, a transplant from Detroit, moved to Nebraska in 1854 and shortly thereafter became the editor of the "Nebraska City News." Reflecting his love of nature, Morton surrounded his home in Nebraska City with fruit orchards and gardens that contained roughly 270 varieties of shrubs and trees, including acres of chestnuts, maples, oaks, and pines. In 1872, Morton sent a resolution to the Nebraska Board of Agriculture calling upon the board "to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit." The board adopted Morton's proposal and set aside April 10, 1872, for the celebration of the first Arbor Day in the United States. On that very first Arbor Day, it is estimated that more than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska.
In What Country Was Arbor Day Celebrated First?
More than 65 years before Morton's proposal set the stage for the first Arbor Day in the United States, a nature-loving priest oversaw the first modern Arbor Day celebration in Spain. Don Ramon Vacas Roxo, a priest in the tiny village of Villanueva de la Sierra, impressed upon his parishioners the important role that trees play in human health and the environment. On that very first Arbor Day, held following mass on Shrove Tuesday, don Ramon, still dressed in his priestly vestments, led his followers in planting a tree in what would become a community tree plantation. After the tree planting, the priest and his parishioners enjoyed a hearty celebratory feast. Spain continues to celebrate Arbor Day, as do several dozen other countries.
How Do Trees Benefit People?
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, trees remove pollution from the atmosphere, improving not only air quality but human health as well. They absorb carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas responsible for the vast majority of global warming, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere and storing the carbon as wood fiber. According to the U.S. Forest Service, trees properly positioned around buildings reduce air conditioning needs by up to 30 percent and save anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the energy required for heating. By creating forested habitat, trees provide living space for countless species of wildlife that could not long survive without it.
What Is America's National Tree?
In 2004, the Arbor Day Foundation held a survey on its website to let visitors decide what tree species should be designated as the national tree. The mighty oak came in first with a total of 101,000 votes. Taking second place was the redwood with 81,000 votes. Rounding out the top five vote-getters were the dogwood, maple, and pine. In December 2004, Congress officially approved legislation making the oak America's national tree.
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