The Ithaca Garden Club’s 2017 Arbor Day gift of trees to the City of Ithaca consisted of three willows planted at Stewart Park. These trees join those already planted in the revitalization of the iconic willows along the shoreline of Cayuga Lake.
The gift of Arbor Day trees to the City is an annual tradition begun in the 1950s.
Arbor Day’s Beginnings
First celebrated in 1872, it was established as a way to encourage farmers and homesteaders to plant trees that would provide shade, shelter, food, fuel and beauty to open areas in the Nebraska Territory.
On January 4, 1872, J. Sterling Morton, well known in the Nebraska Territory for his political, agricultural and literary activities, first proposed a tree-planting holiday to be called “Arbor Day” to the Nebraska Board of Agriculture. The date was set for April 10, 1872. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for properly planting the largest number of trees on that day. It was estimated that more than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day. Arbor Day was celebrated annually and in 1885 was named a legal holiday in Nebraska and April 22, Morton’s birthday, was selected as the date for its permanent observance.
In April 1885, Nebraska City celebrated Arbor Day with a grand parade and a speech by J. Sterling Morton. As a part of the celebration, students from around the city met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time it was planted and was cared for by that grade. During the 1870s, other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day and a tree planting tradition began in schools nationwide in 1882.
The most common date for the state observances is the last Friday in April (as in New York State) and several U.S. presidents have proclaimed a national Arbor Day on that date. However, a number of state Arbor Days are at the other times to coincide with the best tree planting weather from January and February in the south to May in the far north.
New York, Arbor Day is the last Friday in April.