April 28th is National Arbor Day, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. The celebration, which observes the value of trees and their benefits to the community and environment, originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska in 1872. Then pioneer, journalist, and nature advocate Julius Sterling Morton, was a key member in founding this national holiday. He wrote for the Nebraska News, spreading agricultural information as well as his enthusiasm for trees to encourage the audience to be more informed and take interest. After his fellow settlers expressed their need of trees for windbreaks, fuel, building materials, and shade from the hot prairie sun, Morton set out to create a day dedicated to planting trees for the purpose of restoring and enhancing the once empty plains of the greater Nebraska Territory. From 1867 to 1882, he served on the State Board of Agriculture as well as the Horticultural society, aiming towards improved farming methods, conservation programs, and tree planting.
In 1872, the State Board of Agriculture accepted his proposal to “set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” The Board declared April 10 Arbor Day and offered prizes to those who planted the most trees on that day. More than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day, and J. Sterling Morton became known as the “Founder of Arbor Day.” Not long after, other states across the nation passed legislation to recognize Arbor Day. By 1920, more than 45 states celebrated the holiday. Today, it is celebrated in all 50 states.
But why is this holiday so important? It, “…is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future,” Morton once said. He believed that the act of planting a tree was symbolic of life, with the hope that the tree will grow, and someday provide wood products, wildlife habitats, erosion control, shelter from the wind and sun, beauty, and inspiration for future generations.
Although its origins date back to more than century ago, its message is still relevant today. Trees are important, and for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they play a vital role in the water cycle. Their roots absorb harmful pollutants and chemicals from the soil when they take in water. They also help prevent erosion and storm water runoff from the rain, as their leaves direct water down to the soil instead of directly into the sewage drains. Due to the development of residential and commercial properties, tree cover is lost, and in turn oils, heavy metal particles, and other contaminants end up in waterways, not only hurting fish and wildlife, but also raising the price of water and reducing property values. In addition, trees help fight climate change. They cleanse and purify the air by absorbing carbon dioxide, dust particles, and other pollutants and give off oxygen, removing nearly ⅓ of fossil fuel emissions.
Among other things, trees also reduce energy use in homes. If placed properly around a home, trees can reduce a household’s energy consumption for heating and cooling by up to 25% and save an average family between $100 and $250 in energy costs annually. There have been studies suggesting that trees in urban settings reduce crime rates as well. Their placement in a community creates a calm relaxed environment that deters vandalism and littering in public spaces. Not to mention that they also increase property values, and are a good investment of our public dollars due to greater benefits.
How can you help? The Benicia Tree Foundation, a local organization whose mission is to “Strengthen the community by promoting and supporting tree planting, maintenance, and education” has sponsored numerous special events, workshops, and presentations to encourage residents to learn about the importance of trees. They host year long maintenance days for volunteers at project sites where they do tasks like planting trees, rebuilding tree wells to increase the rainfall each tree captures, and applying mulch to retain soil moisture during the dry season. Upcoming dates include April 8 at Robert Semple Elementary, April 20 at the Benicia Housing Authority, May 13 at Benicia High School, and May 18 at the Lake Herman Open Space. They’re a great opportunity to meet new people and make a difference in your community. If you can’t volunteer, the organization is always requesting donations and other contributions. They’re looking for tools and equipment like shovels, rakes, pruners, wheelbarrows, water generators etc. They could also benefit from your artistic and journalistic skills to promote their efforts, including jobs under graphic design, writing/journalism, photography, and cash donations. For more information or questions visit their site at http://www.beniciatrees.org/.
You could also organize a group to clean up a public park or downtown area, recycle what you can and dispose of the rest properly, and plant trees, flowers, and shrubs in your yard. If you’re really interested and would like to be more involved, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website at https://www.arborday.org/. They provide helpful links to schedule meetings with urban forestry leaders and coordinators in your area so you can learn about tree identification, care and maintenance, and sustainability.
This day is not just recognized in the United States; more than 50 countries around the world celebrate Arbor Day at different times throughout the year–based on the best tree planting times in their area. Their events are mainly focused around education. Schools dedicate the whole day towards seeding, cultivation, tree tending and planting, and other environmental-related activities and services.
Overall, Arbor Day is a significant holiday because it spreads awareness about trees and their crucial role in the ecosystem, as well helps educate and inspire all generations to take action towards recovery from climate change. It is essential to pass on the legacy that J.S. Morton established and acknowledge his words, “The cultivation of flowers and trees is the cultivation of the good, the beautiful and the ennobling in man, and for one, I wish to see this culture become universal.”
By: Lindsey Rainer