Weekly “What is it?”: Arbor Day

County forester Cathy Hardin demonstrates proper tree planting techniques at an Arbor Day event. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Over the years, odds are favorable that you have participated in an Arbor Day event. Maybe you planted a tree at your school, picked up a tree from a giveaway, or attended a dedication service with your local city or county. I’ve written about Arbor Day before, but since we have annual events associated with the celebration, I like to revisit it each year.

Arbor (“Tree”) Day is an international celebration, but it was homegrown here in the United States. A journalist and naturalist named J. Sterling Morton started the event in 1872. After moving to the grasslands of Nebraska, he found that trees could break up the cold, strong winds of the midwestern plains. In the very first year of its celebration, Nebraskans planted a million new trees! Within 40 years, the celebration had expanded to the rest of the country, and was particularly popular with schoolchildren.

One of the largest live oaks in the United States–the Middleton Oak, in Charleston, SC. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

Today, millions of communities and schools celebrate Arbor Day all over the world. Trees provide endless benefits, including shade, recreation, food and building products, wildlife habitat, oxygen production, and carbon dioxide uptake. We plant trees for our own use but also for the benefit of future generations; to commemorate special moments, and to provide the very oxygen we breathe. As the Greek proverb goes, “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

Nationally, Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April, very close to Earth Day. However, each state has a designated Arbor Day, based on local climatological conditions. Winter is the best time of year to plant trees, as they can establish roots without competing with the energy needs of new branches and leaves that come along in springtime. Florida’s state celebration this year is January 20th.

In partnership with the West Florida Regional Library system and International Paper, Escambia County is holding three concurrent tree giveaways this Saturday, January 21 at 10 am. They will take place at the Tryon (1200 Langley Ave., Pensacola), Bellview (6425 Mobile Highway, Pensacola), and Molino (6450-A Highway 95A, Molino) branches of the library. At least 215 trees of four different species will be given away at each site, including live oak, dahoon holly, mayhaw, and Walter’s viburnum. The live oak and holly are evergreen, and Walter’s viburnum has showy white flowers. The mayhaw is a smaller fruit tree that many people use for making jelly. Participants may take home two trees per household, and trees are first come, first served.

Here in Escambia County, we have celebrated Arbor Day with tree giveaways and educational programs for many years. In the past few years, we added a tree-themed art contest to engage more people. A local forestry company donates prize money, and the top three winners in the youth, teen, and adult categories can win trees, gardening supplies, and books. To enter, participants can send artwork to me by email (ctsteven@ufl.edu) or regular postal mail (see flyer). Art must be original, and include the artist’s name, age, and a phone number or email contact.

For more information on tree selection and care, check out our resources from the University of Florida horticulture department. Join us also tomorrow for our noon Science Hour program on Facebook Live, in which we talk with horticulture agent Beth Bolles as she demonstrates proper technique for planting and caring for young trees.


Posted: January 17, 2023

Category: Forests, Natural Resources
Tags: Trees, Weekly What Is It

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