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April 27, 2010 > Arbor Day - Plant a Tree

Arbor Day - Plant a Tree

By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By Doris Nikolaidis

Go back 156 years to Nebraska, when it was not even a state. That is the year 1854, when 23 year-old J. Sterling Morton, a new graduate of the University of Michigan moved with his bride, Caroline Joy French, from Detroit, Michigan, to Arbor Lodge near Nebraska City.

When the Mortons first moved to Nebraska, the land was known as part of the "Great American Desert." Easterners believed the land had no agricultural merit. Morton believed differently. Trees were rare in this area, found primarily near rivers and streams. He used trees as windbreaks to increase the hospitableness of the prairie. The Mortons loved trees and planted them throughout their lives. They saw trees as beautiful and beneficial to the habitat. All told, they planted more than 250 varieties around their home at Arbor Lodge.

During his adult life, Morton wore several hats. He was a journalist, politician, and respected agriculturalist. His career path included the editorship of the Nebraska City News, Secretary of Nebraska Territory, and eventually Secretary of Agriculture during the term of President Grover Cleveland.

The field of agriculture was perhaps his dominant interest. Morton helped farmers and others to understand farming and forestry techniques, modern at that time. He played a role in assisting President Cleveland to set up national forest reservations.

Nebraska had been a state for five years when Morton proposed a tree planting holiday at a meeting of the Nebraska State Department of Agriculture. The beginning event was April 10, 1872 and was an outstanding success. Over one million trees were planted. Two years later Arbor Day was made a legal annual state holiday and the date changed to April 22, Morton's birthday. Prizes were given out to the counties and individuals who planted the most trees.

By 1894, Arbor Day was so popular it became a national holiday. Morton, who lived until 1902, witnessed its celebrity. In 1972, President Richard Nixon decreed National Arbor Day would be held annually on the last Friday in April, which this year is April 30. All 50 states celebrate this day, although the dates vary depending on the local climate. California's state celebration is March 7 - 14. Incidentally our state tree is the redwood.

From this modest but significant start, Arbor Days are celebrated worldwide. Many countries have their own Arbor Days but the names vary. In Japan, it is "Greening Week," in Israel it is called "The New Year's Day of Trees." Korea calls it "The Tree-loving Week," and Iceland's is "The Students' Afforestation Day." In Yugoslavia, it is "The Reforestation Week" and India names it "The National Festival of Tree Planting."

Trees are still beautiful and beneficial. These plants are vital for life on the planet and moderate the climate, improve air quality, conserving water, and give wildlife ample habitat. By planting trees and shrubs, the environment becomes more natural. Harmony is restored to city and suburban life. One asset is shade. All animals value that, especially human beings. While driving or walking, notice how much squirrels and birds use trees for habitat and food.

Follow Morton's example; be a tree lover. Here are fitting personal actions for April 30, Arbor Day. Examine your own trees. Check out their health. Plan future improvements. Walk around your neighborhood. Talk with your neighbors about the value of trees and improving your block. Singularly or in a group, beautify your own area.

Expand your horizons. Note if any nearby public parks need more trees or tree maintenance. Nurseries can provide details of planting, as well as trees. Many communities have volunteer workdays. If community action is needed, be the organizer and get involved.

Remember J. Sterling Morton and plant a tree!

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