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Historical Aspects of Arbor Day

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April 1, 2019

AmyRandy, can you provide us with some background on Arbor Day?

Randy:  I would be happy to. As you know we celebrate Arbor Day during the early spring of each year by planting trees. However, tree planting is really as old as human civilization as trees were seen as a symbol of life. Historical evidence showed that the first tree planting event was reported to have occurred in the 1500’s.  But, Arbor Day itself is truly an American born event. Records show that the first U.S. Arbor Day celebration occurred in 1872 in the State of Nebraska. This was organized by Julius Sterling Morton who was originally from the state of Michigan, but he and his wife relocated to the Nebraska Territory. At that time, they were taken back by the lack of trees and forest. Like most individuals having been raised in an area that abounded with various tree species, they began to plant both forest and fruit trees. Mr. Morton was a journalist and became the editor of the best paper in Nebraska. This afforded him the ability to talk about his favorite topics, which included agriculture, horticulture and forestry.  

Mr. Morton delivered a proposal to the Nebraska’s board of agriculture concerning a specific day to be set aside for tree planting. The date was set for April 10, 1872 and approximately 1 million trees were planted throughout Nebraska. Since that time every state in the Union celebrates a specific Arbor Day. Although the official date of Arbor Day was originally set for April 22, (which is Mr. Morton’s birthday). Arbor Day has grown to the point where it is celebrated worldwide. Currently in the US, National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. All fifty states, Puerto Rico, and some U.S. territories have passed legislation adopting Arbor Day, which is celebrated on a date appropriate for tree planting in their region.

In Mississippi, Arbor Day has been celebrated each year since 1926 on the second Friday of February, as this is the best time for planting tree seedlings. The day is usually held with school festivals and the designation of special trees planted, such as the seedlings grown from seed that were taken on the Shuttle into outer space and brought back. These memorial trees allows children and others to learn about the positive aspects of trees and forests.

Amy: I know that Mississippi State also has an Arbor Day dedication each year and that it has become one of the Universities that has been named by the Arbor Day Foundation for this effort.

Randy:  You’re right, Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi are the only two Mississippi Universities recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus USA. Mississippi State earned this in 2013 and each year professors and students plant trees in specified areas of the 1,500 maintained acres of the Starkville campus. This year, pine trees donated by ArborGen were planted along the new Hail State Boulevard. These seedlings will not only provide environmental benefits but add to the beauty of the campus.  

Amy:  I know that we now have Earth Day, which is supposed to bring environmental awareness but how does that differ from Arbor Day

Randy: Earth Day arose from basically protests that were begun in the 1970’s. Their background was to protest the negative effects of industrial development. The group today focuses on pollution of plastic as well as climate change. It is also noteworthy that the Earth Day Network they also have chosen to plant trees has part of their campaign.  Arbor Day on the other hand is focused on primarily the use of trees for cleaning the environment, providing visual aesthetics, and increasing the use of renewable products from wood. Both have very noble intentions, but the approach is much different. Trees certainly hold a special place in the hearts of a lot of people. Their longevity allows for ties between generations and memories that may have been forgotten, but remembered when gazing at a forest or a specific tree. The loss of a special tree is seen almost like the loss of a loved one.

Arbor Day has a historical background of nearly 150 years as an American event and as one of the first and oldest environmental programs developed by a man that loved trees and forest. This event through time has been adopted by societies throughout the world.

Department: Forestry

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