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Do Earth Day and Arbor Day Share “Roots”?

Do Earth Day and Arbor Day Share “Roots”?

Now that the Earth Day has passed (April 22), we look to Arbor Day (April 24). Both events celebrate our natural environment, but are they the same? Despite their similar theme and their closeness on the calendar, Earth Day and Arbor Day are each their own unique holiday. We explain the differences of each.

Earth Day vs. Arbor Day

Why are trees so vital to our lives? They prevent erosion, provide oxygen-rich air, and they give shade from the hot sun. These are just a few of the many reasons. They’re also the reasons why we celebrate Arbor Day.

Arbor Day was started in April 1872 by J. Sterling Morton. Morton, a pioneer of the Nebraska Territory and a tree enthusiast, praised the benefits of trees and encouraged his fellow pioneers to plant them across the then dusty and treeless Nebraska landscape. He even went so far as to propose a tree-planting day to the State Board of Agriculture. And from that suggestion, the first American Arbor Day was born. Ten years later, Arbor Day had become so popular that it was named a Nebraska state holiday, and its date was changed to April 22nd—Morton’s birthday.

Earth Day celebrates trees too, but also clean air, clean water, and the protection of our environment. The Earth Day movement kicked off in 1970 at a time when the public, including US Senator Gaylord Nelson, who would eventually become Earth Day’s founder, was becoming aware of the dangers of pollution to human health and that of our environment.

Arbor Day concept with blurred background image of tall tree canopy with added text.

Why the Back-to-Back Dates?

The very first Earth Day was actually celebrated on Arbor Day. As the story goes, Nelson settled on April 22 because he wanted to garner the attention of college students who were very active in anti-war movements at the time. The end of April was ideal since students wouldn’t be preoccupied by spring break or final exams. But that likely wasn’t his only reason for picking that date. Nelson may have been drawn to it, too, because of Arbor Day. With folks in many states already planning to honor Mother Nature on this day, his movement would win more appeal.

However, Arbor Day and Earth Day wouldn’t share April 22nd for long. The Earth Day event was such a success, even among political leaders, that it led to a flurry of environmentally-friendly actions. One of those actions was the recognition of Arbor Day as a national holiday by President Richard M. Nixon. It was then that Arbor Day was uprooted from Morton’s birthday and moved to the last Friday in April. It isn’t exactly known why this was done, but Earth Day’s overnight success may have had something to do with it.

Earth Day & Arbor Day Traditions

father with infant son planting a tree

A popular Arbor Day and Earth Day custom is to plant trees, but that isn’t the only way you can show love for Mother Nature. This year, give these nature-inspired activities a try:

  • Visit a botanical garden or arboretum – you can do this virtually without ever leaving your home!
  • Plant and grow a backyard, patio, or container garden.
  • Start a kitchen herb garden.
  • Plant trees, shrubs, and flowers that are native to your area. Doing so restores the natural habitat and provides optimal homes and food for local birds and wildlife. (Native plants are also lower maintenance!)
  • Create your own terrarium.
  • Find ways to make your garden more water-wise. Consider using rainwater to water plants or planting drought-resistant varieties.
  • Take a nature walk or hike.
  • Become a member of your favorite conservation or wildlife organization.

What are some of your annual Arbor Day and Earth Day traditions?

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