Trees: Reduce carbon dioxide. Produce oxygen. Physically store carbon, reducing emissions and our carbon footprint. Provide cooling through shade. Reduce soil erosion. Control wind. Food source for insects, and directly and indirectly, birds and animals, and let’s not forget humans, too. Provide lumber, fuel. Detox air and capture soil pollutants.
Emotional benefits of trees: Psychological peace of mind. Yes indeed, “shinrin yoku”, forest bathing or forest therapy, is a real thing! Fact: People heal faster in a hospital room with a green view. Fact: Crime is reduced in areas landscaped with trees and shrubs. And the list goes on and on…
A planet with more trees is a better world. Why not think of Arbor Day as a national birthday for trees? But how did it all start? While we were taught that transplanted Nebraskan J. Sterling Morton was the father of the first “Arbor Day” holiday he actually came too late to the party to claim that title, at least internationally. The first documented, organized tree planting event was in the village of Mondonedo, Spain in 1594. Two hundred years later Villaneuva de la Sierra, also in Spain, held the first officially declared Arbor Day, in 1805. But let’s not minimize J. Sterling’s efforts 67 years later! When Mr. and Mrs. Morton moved from Detroit to Nebraska they brought their love of plants intact and started landscaping their new home. Using his journalistic pulpit as a prominent newspaper editor, he promoted the importance of trees to those living (at the time) on a windswept prairie. Nebraska became the first American state to hold an “Arbor Day” event in April 1872. Thirteen years later on Morton’s birthday, April 22, Nebraska celebrated the importance of trees in our lives by declaring a legal state holiday!
Other states took notice of “Arbor Day” and an important holiday took root. The most common date throughout the U.S. is the last Friday in April. All states have an official “Arbor Day”. But as Alex Trebek pointed out on a recent “Jeopardy” episode, some states celebrate as early as January and as late as May, based on their geographic latitude. Nations around the world, from A to Z, have their own observances honoring the importance trees, truly friends and allies in the fight against climate change!
While it doesn’t have to be on Arbor Day, which is April 26th this year in Illinois, we should each think about planting at least one tree this spring as a personal commitment toward protecting our world. Plant a tree, have a new friend! Seriously, planting a tree is something each of us can do to really make a significant difference in our physically challenged planet. “Hey, Hallmark, it’s an important national observance, where are the Arbor Day cards?”
Chief Horticulture Officer