top of page

DID YOU KNOW? | Tree Planting Day took root in the prairies of Nebraska

By Tara Yilmaz

→ Did You know that Arbor Day is on Friday, April 28? In Latin, Arbor Day translates to “tree” day and it’s a holiday that celebrates the preservation and planting of trees. According to and Arbor Day Foundation, the origins of this holiday are tied to the early 1870s in Nebraska City, Nebraska. More specifically, J. Sterling Morton the editor for the Nebraska City Newspaper. Morton held a deep reverence for trees. So much so, he strongly advocated for individual and civics groups to make an effort to plant them. He also used his position at the paper to catapult his message about the ecological importance of trees into the minds of the Nebraskan readers. Although being an early environmentalist, his love of trees didn’t bloom overnight. Just like any passionate purpose, it took a few years for it to cultivate.

→ Did you know J. Sterling Morton moved to Nebraska years before it achieved statehood? He and his wife Caroline moved there in 1854. The 160 acres of land they acquired were barren of trees, shrubs, and greenery. Their land was a flat desolate plain that stretched as far as their eyes could see.

But with the absence of vegetation, the Mortons altered the landscape of their property by planting a variety of trees which undoubtedly ushered in ecological life. With his tenacity for agriculture, Morton jumped into the political arena which allowed him to spread his message further.

→ Did you know Morton was appointed Nebraska’s territorial Secretary of State from 1858-1861? In addition to his newly appointed term, Morton acted as territorial governor from 1858-1859. mentions in the online article “Founder of Arbor Day in 1872,” while living in Nebraska City, Morton carefully watched the growth of the Nebraska Territory through all its ups and downs. He did not believe Nebraska was the “Great American Desert,” but quite the opposite. He believed in the state’s agriculture and the honorable work of farmers.

→ Did you know Morton took a hiatus from politics to focus on promoting the importance of agriculture? The meaningful work he procured for the greater good of the environment landed him a membership with Nebraska’s state Horticultural Society and president of the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture. He used both positions to enthusiastically advocate for planting trees and improving the state’s agricultural production.

→ Did you know on Jan. 4, 1872, Morton proposed the first tree-planting holiday? After a few months, the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture adopted Morton’s resolution to create Arbor Day. The initial date for the celebration was set for April 10, 1872. Prizes were offered to contestants and counties to plant the largest number of trees. The Arbor Day Foundation estimates that more than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. In 1874, Nebraska Gov. Robert W. Furnas officially proclaimed Arbor Day to be on April 10 that year. But in 1885, Arbor Day was declared a legal state holiday in Nebraska and April 22 was selected to be the date for the state’s permanent annual observance. Throughout the following years, all 50 states adopted tree planting day.

→ Did you know the Friends of Mellon Park will host its third annual Arbor Day Celebration? In partnership with the City of Pittsburgh, the family-friendly event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (rain or shine).

The goal is to create an opportunity for people to get to know Friends of Mellon Park, celebrate the environment, educate kids about the importance of caring for trees, animals and green spaces, give community groups a chance to showcase their work and bring people from the surrounding neighborhoods together to have fun in the park.



bottom of page