National Arbor Day is unique in that instead of reflecting on traditions of the past, the holiday focuses on the future. Participants take part in celebrating by planting trees for the benefit of future generations, encouraging observers to look forward instead of backward.
Though across the nation Arbor Day is celebrated during different parts of the year based on the optimal time to plant a tree, National Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday in April.
“Arbor Day is one of those unique opportunities to really celebrate all the different values that trees bring,” said Dan Lambe, president of the Arbor Day Foundation.
Aesthetics aside, by cleaning the air and drinking water as well as decreasing energy needs, trees provide many benefits to our health and to our environment.
“Everybody loves the beauty that trees provide, but we all know that trees provide so much more than just color in the fall and spring blooms and trees in our cities and towns,” Lambe said.
Not only do trees provide oxygen for us to breathe, but they help to clean the air we breathe, too.
The rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is dramatically increasing due to fossil fuels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During photosynthesis, trees remove carbon from the air, counteracting the negative effects of burning fossil fuels. A single mature tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon dioxide yearly, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.
Trees can remove other pollutants from the air including sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides. It is estimated that mature trees absorb 120 to 240 pounds of particulate pollution each year, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. While providing shade to parking lots, trees also reduce the amount of hydrocarbon emissions produced by vehicles.
Just as trees work to clean air, trees also aid in providing cleaner drinking water by providing a natural filter for water supplies that originate in mountains and waterways. Trees diminish nuisance algae, filter pollutants, stimulate nutrient cycling and help prevent erosion in a healthy forested watershed.
“Our forest lands are the first line of protection and natural filtering of those critical water supplies,” Lambe said.
National, state and private forest lands provide clean drinking water to 180 million Americans across the country, according to Lambe.
Globally, forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 percent of accessible freshwater, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. About one-third of the world’s largest cities get their drinking water straight from forested areas, including New York City.
In New York City, the water supplies come from upstate New York, where critical forest lands are protected to help preserve the clean drinking water supply. The city’s implementation of a forest protection strategy, instead of building a new water treatment plant, will save it $6 billion, according to the Arbor Day Foundation.
Financial savings can also be seen on the energy bill as well. Strategically placed trees help to shade homes and air conditioning units. Research shows that those trees can reduce energy consumption by 20 to 30 percent.
For more information on how to celebrate Arbor Day, visit celebratearborday.com. Visit arborday.org to find out which trees are best to plant in your area.