Arbor Day’s Michigan Roots

Highland Park Junior High School students plant trees, 1930, courtesy Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

We plant trees not for ourselves, but for future generations.”
– Caecilius

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance explains that the first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872. It was the brainchild of pioneer & journalist J. Sterling Morton to help restore plains that had been cleared for building materials, fuel and farming. Nebraskans planted over 1 million trees on that first Arbor Day, and Arbor Day became a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1885. Morton’s birthday of April 22 was selected as its observance and the holiday soon spread to other states.

Today, the most common date of state observance for Arbor Day is the last Friday in April, and several U.S. presidents have proclaimed a national Arbor Day on that Friday.

J. Sterling Morton’s love for trees came from his life in Michigan. Morton’s family lived in Detroit and he attended public school in Monroe, then later Albion College (Class of 1850) and the University of Michigan (Class of 1854). Morton missed the array of vibrant green trees he grew up with in Michigan and continued to plant them throughout his life.

…In 1885, the Michigan Legislature resolved “that the Governor is hereby requested to call the attention of the people of the state to the importance of planting trees for ornament and by naming a day upon which the work shall be given special attention to be known as Arbor Day.”

Until 1965, the Upper and Lower Peninsula had separate Arbor Days in the spring because of the difference in weather conditions for tree planting. Governor George Romney proclaimed an Arbor Week for the last week in April 1966. In his proclamation, Governor Romney broke with the traditional one day, “Because of the increased interest in and the importance of the statewide ‘Keep Michigan Beautiful’ program, one or two days do not afford enough time and opportunity for a full and proper observance of Arbor Day.”

“It is well that we bring attention to our trees and the need to continue to plant them about our homes, our places of business, our industries, our schools, our highways, and throughout the landscape so that their majesty will reflect our appreciation of the grandeur of nature and further the culture and economy of our state.”

Each year the Governor and Michigan Legislature proclaim the last week in April as Arbor Week and Arbor Day as the last Friday of that week.

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance has a photo gallery of tree plantings from all over Michigan, monthly newsletters and their calendar has all kinds of events from across the state.

The photo above is from a great article about reforestation efforts in Michigan from Seeking Michigan.

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