Arbor Day is an annual holiday that seeks to inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees. It started in 1872 in an area of the United States not often associated with trees—the Great Plains. A few years earlier a man named J. Sterling Morton had moved from tree-filled Michigan to Nebraska, a land practically devoid of trees. Morton was a nature enthusiast and spent the next several years encouraging people to plant trees, shrubs, and flowers. He advocated that plants, and specifically trees, would help improve the environment, beautify the landscape, and encourage others to settle in Nebraska.
As Morton became a well-known figure within his community, he continued to advocate for the importance of plants through several literary, agricultural, and political positions and platforms. He eventually focused his efforts on trees and petitioned lawmakers to set aside a day dedicated to their care and planting.
In 1872, Morton’s dream was realized when the Nebraska state government set aside April 10 as a day to celebrate and plant trees. Nebraskans planted over one million trees that day. For the next several years, Nebraska set aside one day a year to celebrate and plant trees. Eventually, in 1885, Nebraska officially created Arbor Day as an annual celebration of trees. Soon after, other states adopted the tradition and officially recognized Arbor Day as an annual holiday.
Today, all 50 states, along with many countries around the world, recognize Arbor Day in some manner. The day of its observance varies, depending on the best time of year to plant trees in each location.
Red Butte Garden is one of the largest botanical gardens in the Intermountain West and together with the University of Utah, is the State Arboretum of Utah.
The Garden's Arbor Day celebration, usually held on the last Friday of April, continues the tradition established by J. Sterling Morton and seeks to inspire people to plant, nurture, and celebrate trees.
Arbor Day events at Red Butte Garden traditionally include a tree planting, a tree seedling giveaway, garden-wide educational activities, tree tours, and the official State Arbor Day Ceremony, where a declaration from the governor denotes the importance of the day.
Over the years, Red Butte Garden has partnered with several community entities to celebrate Arbor Day, including the Utah Society for Environmental Education, Tree Utah, Rocky Mountain Power, and the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, & State Lands. In past years, funding in part by the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks Program (ZAP) has made Arbor Day a ZAP Free Day where everyone enjoys free Garden admission.