Arbor Day: An American-born Celebration
Arbor Day has a 145-year history, started in Nebraska by a nature-loving newspaper editor named J. Sterling Morton who recognized the many valuable services trees provide. The first Arbor Day was such a big success that Mr. Morton’s idea quickly spread nationwide–particularly with children planting trees on school grounds and caring for them throughout the year. Now, Arbor Day is celebrated around the world in more than 30 countries, including every continent but Antarctica. We humans often form emotional attachments to trees, planting them at the beginning of a marriage, birth of a child, or death of a loved one. Trees have tremendous symbolic value within cultures and religions worldwide, so it only makes sense that people around the world have embraced the idea of celebrating a holiday focused solely on trees.
In addition to their aesthetic beauty and valuable shade in the hot summers, trees provide countless benefits: wood and paper products, nut and fruit production, wildlife habitat, stormwater uptake, soil stabilization, carbon dioxide intake, and oxygen production. New research is even showing that trees can communicate throughout a forest, sharing “information” and nutrients through a deeply connected network of roots and fungi that can increase the resiliency of an entire forest population. And if you’re curious of the actual dollar value of a single tree, the handy online calculator at TreeBenefits.com can give you an approximate lifetime value of a one growing in your own backyard.
While national Arbor Day is held the last Friday in April, Arbor Day in Florida is always the third Friday of January. Due to our geographical location further south than most of the country, our primary planting season is during our relatively mild winters. Trees have the opportunity during cooler months to establish roots without the high demands of the warm growing season in spring and summer.
To commemorate Arbor Day, many local communities will host tree giveaways, plantings, and public ceremonies. In the western Panhandle, the Florida Forest Service, UF/IFAS Extension, and local municipalities have partnered for several events, listed here. As the Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”