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Rooting for the Future: Arbor Day at MU

Arbor Day was created to encourage the planting of trees and maintenance of forests.

On April 15, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt shared the following message with U.S. Schoolchildren regarding Arbor Day: “A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as hopeless; forests which are so used that they cannot renew themselves will soon vanish, and with them all their benefits.”

Arbor Day was created by J. Sterling Morton, an editor for a Nebraska newspaper and a resident of Nebraska City, Nebraska, who was passionate about trees. He advocated for individuals and civic groups to engage in tree-planting activities. Upon assuming the role of secretary of the Nebraska Territory, Morton expanded his advocacy for trees. On Jan. 4, 1872, during a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture, he initially proposed the idea of establishing a holiday dedicated to tree planting.

Photo of child helping to plant Holly trees in the Library Reading and Sculpture Garden.
Holly trees being planted in the Library Reading and Sculpture Garden.

“Generally speaking, it was created to encourage the planting of trees and maintenance of forests because of their importance in nurturing the physical and emotional well-being of people and the environment,” says Dr. Christopher Hardy, professor of biology at Millersville University.

While Arbor Day and Earth Day both occur in the same month, they serve distinct purposes. Arbor Day focuses on planting trees within communities, aiming to bolster greenery and environmental sustainability, specifically through tree planting and forest conservation. Earth Day centers on raising awareness about the state of the environment and advocating for actions to address environmental issues. Additionally, Arbor Day predates Earth Day, having been established with a specific emphasis on tree planting initiatives.

According to Hardy, trees provide us with the services of cleaning our air, filling the atmosphere with oxygen, maintaining healthy wildlife and game animal populations and providing habitat for edible, medicinal and otherwise useful plants. Moreover, recent research has shown us that the destruction and fragmentation of forests and woodlands have led to imbalances in predator/prey populations that have contributed to health crises which include major epidemics such as Lyme disease. In urban areas, trees have also been shown to cool the streets in summer and reduce crime rates, presumably because of the positive psychological effect of trees (and plants) on the communities that live there.

Arbor Day falls on the last Friday of April each year, making this year’s celebration on April 26.


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