Arbor Day – a breathe of fresh air

Arbor Day – a breathe of fresh air

Can you feel it, spring is in the air. Well spring in South Africa that is. The 1st of September is known as the first day of spring, however more importantly it’s Arbor Day. Arbor Day literally translated means tree day and it was put in place for us to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of trees. This day has become more and more important over the years as deforestation increases and huge tracts of land are turned into farmland. Let’s take a look at how it all started.

Large oak tree standing proud.


The history of Arbor Day goes back to the early 1870s in Nebraska City, Nebraska. A reporter by the name of Julius Sterling Morton relocated to the state with his wife, in 1854. The couple purchased 160 acres in Nebraska City and planted a wide variety of trees and shrubs in what was originally a flat stretch of barren land.

Morton soon became the editor of the state’s first newspaper, Nebraska City News, which became an ideal platform for Morton to spread his knowledge of trees, and to stress their ecological significance within Nebraska. His message of tree life reverberated with Nebraskans, many of whom identified with the lack of fore their community. Morton also became part of the Nebraska Board of Agriculture.

On January 7, 1872, Morton initiated a day that would motivate all Nebraskans to plant trees in their area. The agriculture board agreed, and after some discussions about the name the event was originally going to be named “Sylvan Day” in regard to forest trees but Morton suggested that the day should reflect the appreciation of all trees and hence Arbor Day was born.

The first ever Arbor Day, held on April 10, 1872, was a great success. Morton led the charge in the planting of around 1 million trees. Enthusiasm and productivity was encouraged by the prizes awarded to community members who planted trees correctly.

The tradition quickly began to increase. In 1882, schools across the country started to join in, and more than a decade into its initiation Arbor Day became an official state holiday in Nebraska in 1885. April 22 was initially chosen, because of its ideal weather for planting trees and in recognition of Morton’s birthday.

Within 20 years, Arbor Day had reached a large majority of the nation. The national day spread even further with the help of an agriculturalist friend Birdsey Northrop. In 1883, Northrop spread the concept of Arbor Day to Japan, and continued to influence the creation of Arbor Days across Europe, Canada and Australia.

It wasn’t until 1970, however, that Arbor Day became known nationwide, due to the president at the time Richard Nixon. This move was in line with other environmentally-friendly steps taken by Nixon in the 1970s, including the passing of the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Protection Act, along with the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Although some states and other countries celebrate Arbor Day at different times of the year to ensure that the trees are in the best season to grow, the national observance is on the last Friday in April. Although Julius Morton passed away in 1902, well before the holiday was given a formal day of observance across the country, he is still commemorated in Washington, D.C. with a statue dedicated to the “Father of Arbor Day” in the National Hall of Fame.

Trees have many ways of displaying their leaves to maximize the amount of sun they get.

Why trees matter

In Greater Kansas City, trees take out 26,000 tons of air pollution each year.

Office workers with a view of trees show significantly less stress and more satisfaction.

One adult tree can provide a day’s supply of oxygen for up to four people.

Forested watersheds provide clean drinking water to more than 180 million Americans.

Trees lower surface and air temperatures by casting shade. Shaded areas may be 20–45°F, 7°C cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded materials.

In one year, an acre of adult trees absorb the amount of CO2 produced by a motor vehicle driven 26,000 miles, that’s 67 square kilometres.

Trees and forests provide critical species range. Many animals have a range of hundreds of square miles. The mountain lion of North America, for example, has a range of nearly 400 square miles, that’s 1035 square kilometres.

Neighbouring houses within 100 feet of street trees sold for $1,688 higher, on average.

By planting 20 million trees, the world and its human population will be provided with 260 million more tons of oxygen. Those same 20 million trees will remove 10 million tons of CO2.

Roadside trees decrease nearby indoor air pollution by more than 50%.

This coral tree has flowers that resemble a half peeled bannana.

Trees of the year in South Africa

Normally two trees are celebrated in South Africa, one of which is fairly common and the other a more rare species. The trees for 2018 are Yellowwoods in general and the other species is Shepherds tree. (I have chosen one species of Yellowwood as there are a number and we don’t want to be here for days)

COMMON: Yellowwoods, Geelhoutbome P. elongatus
A small evergreen tree or shrub. It produces male and female cones, with the female cones red. It prefers sandy soils along rivers and streams in the Western Cape. Occasionally seen on mountainsides. This tree is protected in South Africa and the smallest yellowwood of the region.


Yellowood tree fruit.

RARE: Shepherd’s tree, Witgat Boscia albitrunca

This is a small to medium-sized tree reaching a height of 7 m. The trunk is conspicuously smooth and white or whitish grey with bare stems. The conservation status of this tree is currently unknown, but due to its rather large range of indigenous uses, studies are being done to determine its status. This species is located in the drier parts of Southern Africa, in areas of low rainfall.

The root is beaten to make porridge. It is commonly used as an alternative for coffee or chicory. The root is also used to produce a beer and to treat haemorrhoids. The leaves are nutritious and are often eaten by cattle, although the milk is then said to be ruined. The fruits are used in traditional food dishes and the flower buds as a caper alternative in pickles. Household instruments are made from the wood.

Example of a sheperd tree.

What can you do?

Plant a tree. (This is the best thing you can do)

Recycle used paper.

Print documents on both sides of the page.

Have a picnic under a tree.

Go for a walk/hike in a forest.

Put a bird house up to attract birds to nest in your garden.

This amazing article below shows just how one person can make a difference to their local environment just by planting a couple of trees…. Ok maybe more than just a couple.


Take Home Message


I couldn’t resist putting this meme in as it describes perfectly not only where people’s priorities lie in this day and age, but also the core importance that trees play in our lives and how much we rely on them to live.


Podocarpus elongatus

Photo credits



Garden Explorer

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