American Holidays: Arbor Day

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11630

Most holidays celebrate or commemorate people or historical events. Arbor Day is a bit different, because its purpose is to draw attention to a plant, and falls on different days in different states!


People and Their Environment, United States

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


People plant special plants on a certain holiday.

  • Do you know the plants and the holiday?

planting trees

If you have not studied the four previous Related Lessons in this American Holidays series, you can begin in the right-hand sidebar.

Arbor Day is a state- and federally-recognized holiday, created to teach the importance of trees, and to encourage people to plant trees in their community.

  • Have you ever planted a tree at your school or home on Arbor Day?

family planing a tree

Learn more about this special day with PBS LEARNING MEDIA | Arbor Day | PBS KIDS:

The first Arbor Day was celebrated on April 10, 1872 and was only celebrated in the state of Nebraska.

Julius Sterling Morton, who was Secretary of Agriculture under President Cleveland, had moved to Nebraska a few years before and had noticed that Nebraska's geography and the economy would benefit from more trees being planted.

JS Morton

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Morton set an example by planting trees on his property and encouraging others to do the same.

In 1870, Morton proposed that a special day be set aside to plant trees and raise awareness about the importance of planting trees. The state of Nebraska recognized the day as a state holiday, and it was a huge success.

More than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872!

A second Arbor Day was held in Nebraska in 1884. It was also a successful endeavor, so Nebraska's state government decided to make it an annual state holiday.

They decided Arbor Day would be celebrated each year on April 22, Morton's birthday.

Nebraska state sign

In the years that followed, other states began celebrating their own Arbor Day. Finally, in 1970, President Nixon made Arbor Day a national holiday.

According to the legislation that Nixon signed into law, the last Friday in April is the official date of Arbor Day, but celebrations vary by state according to climate and when plants start blooming.

Today, most people go to school and work on Arbor Day. Schools will often have students plant trees around their school buildings, and communities will hold special tree-planting events.

Arbor Day has even expanded into other countries. Australia, Japan, Iceland, and India all have their own versions of Arbor Day!

  • Are you curious to know when your state celebrates Arbor Day?

Move on to the Got It? section to find out!

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