Arbor Day Essay Ideas

The Essay Contest is a cooperative effort between the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, Division of Resource Conservation and Forestry, McDonalds Restaurants of South Dakota and the State Association of Conservation Districts.

The contest is open to both fifth and sixth grade students from South Dakota. Rules and contest flyers are available in January of each year from local conservation districts or local service forestry offices.

  • Substantial cash prizes, certificates of achievement and other awards will be presented to the first, second and third place winners of each contest.
  • A cash award of $150 is presented to the first place winner's school to be used to purchase needed equipment or supplies.
  • Deadlines for entries each year are usually in late March with the awards presented on or around Arbor Day, which traditionally falls on the last Friday in April.


2018 Invitation Letter
2018 Essay Judging Criteria
2018 Essay Certificate of Achievement
2018 Essay Certificate of Participation
2018 Essay Contest Rules
State Contest Submission Cover Sheet

Arbor Day is a great time to
think about trees and
Idaho ’s forests.

J. Sterling Morton

Working Forests are where trees
are continuously grown, harvested
and re-grown for the future.

The idea for Arbor Day originally came from Nebraska, where a lack of trees led to the founding of Arbor Day in the 1800s. Among pioneers moving ,into the Nebraska Territory in 1854 was J. Sterling Morton from Detroit. He and his wife were lovers of nature, and the home they established in Nebraska was quickly planted with trees shrubs and flowers. Morton was a journalist and soon became editor of Nebraska's first newspaper.

He spread agricultural information and his enthusiasm for trees to an equally enthusiastic audience. His fellow pioneers missed their trees. But, more importantly, trees were needed as windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun. Morton advocated tree planting by individuals in his articles and editorials, and encouraged civic organizations and groups to join in. His prominence in the area increased, and he became secretary of the Nebraska Territory, which provided another opportunity to stress the value of trees.

J. Sterling Morton
Arbor Day's Beginnings

On January 4, 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting holiday to be called "Arbor Day" at a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture. The date was set for April 10, 1872. Prizes were offered to counties and individuals for planting properly 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 officially proclaimed by the young state's Gov. Robert W. Furnas on March 12, 1874, and the day itself was observed April 10, 1874. In 1885, Arbor Day was named a legal holiday in Nebraska and April 22, Morton's birthday, was selected as the date for its permanent observance.

During the 1870's other states passed legislation to observe Arbor Day. Today the most common date for the state observances is the last Friday in April, and several U.S. presidents have proclaimed a national Arbor Day on that date. But a number of state Arbor Days are at other times to coincide with the best tree planting weather, from January and February in the south, to May in the far north.

A Proclamation
by President Theodore. Roosevelt, 1907:

To the School Children of the United States:
Arbor Day (which means simply "Tree Day") is now observed in every State in our Union and mainly in the schools. At various times from January to December, but chiefly in this month of. April, you give a day or part of a day to special exercises and perhaps to actual tree planting, in recognition of the importance of trees to us as a Nation, and of what they yield in adornment, comfort, and useful products to the communities in which you live.

It is well that you should celebrate your Arbor Day thoughtfully, for within your lifetime the Nation's need of trees will become serious. We of an older generation can get along without what we have, though With growing hardship; but in your full manhood and womanhood you will want what nature once so bountifully supplied, and man so thoughtlessly destroyed; and because of that want you will reproach us, not for what we have used, but for what we have wasted.

For the nation as for the man or woman, and the boy or girl, the road to success is the right use of what we have and the improvement of present opportunity. If you neglect to prepare yourselves not for the duties and responsibilities which will fall upon you later, if you do not learn the things which you will need to know when your school days are over, you will, suffer the consequences. So any nation which in its youth lives only for the day, reaps without sowing, and consumes without husbanding, must expect the penalty of the prodigal, whose labor could with difficulty find him the bare means of life.

A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as hopeless; forests which are so used that they can not renew themselves will soon vanish, and with them all their benefits. A true forest is not merely a storehouse full of wood, but, as it. were, a factory of wood, and at the same time a reservoir of water. When you help to preserve our forests or, to plant new ones you are acting the part of good citizens. The value of forestry deserves, therefore, to be taught in the schools, which aim to make good citizens of you. If your Arbor Day exercises help you to realize what benefits each one of you receives from the forests, and how by your assistance these benefits may continue, they will serve a good end.

Tips on Planting Trees

Before you dig, do your homework. Anyone can dig a hole and "plant" a tree, but you want the tree to survive. Ask yourself if this is the RIGHT TREE and is this the RIGHT PLACE?

There are hundreds-even thousands--of different kinds of trees that you can select to plant. Check with your local nursery, certified landscaper, garden club, or city forester for a list of the trees that will provide all the characteristics you desire (size, shape, colors, flowers, hardiness, growth rate, etc.) and grow best in the spot you select. Be sure to check the soil conditions, drainage, and how much water and sunlight the tree will need. Try to anticipate how large the tree might grow in the future and allow plenty of room for this expansion. This simple exercise will improve your long- term chance of success. It is also a wonderful way to integrate key science concepts and processes (change, cycles, predicting, collecting and analyzing data) into your Arbor Week activities. You can buy a tree from a local nursery (or mail order catalog), or ask them to make a donation. Beware: Many government agencies, businesses, and community groups give away tree seeds and small seedlings, but these quot;free" trees may not be the RIGHT TREE for your particular planting spot. Also, bigger trees, when planted property, usually have a better chance of surviving then small ones. HELPFUL HINT: Plant the biggest trees you can!

  • To find a good spot at school, check with your superintendent and landscape crew.
  • To find a good spot in town, check with your city forester or local park director.
  • Always check with your utility companies! (Overhead wires? Underground pipes & cables?)

If a good location can not be found, don't panic! Plant your trees in large pots or containers. Place the trees outdoors on the patio, in the courtyard, near a window, or along the sidewalk or driveway. (Don't forget to check on the trees regularly)

    Ten Things YOU and your students can do to Celebrate Trees!

1Language Arts--Imagine the most beautiful tree in the world. Think about how it would look, where it would grow, what you would say to it. Share your ideas through stories and drawings.6Geography--Dissect a candy bar to identify tree products (nuts, cocoa, coconut, wrapper). Map their possible origins. Show how people depend on forests for food, shelter, and livelihood.
2Science--Plant and study tree seeds, record germination rates, and grow seedlings. Give as Mother's Day gifts!7Science--Identify ten different trees by leaves, bark, shape, wood, etc. Sample tree products: maple syrup, apples, nuts. Determine which tree parts you're eating.
3Art--Make wooden bird houses, feeders or jewelry. Create handmade paper greeting cards. Design creatures from cones, twigs and other tree parts.8Math--Explore how much wood is used to produce an issue of your favorite comic book or newspaper. Investigate rates of recycling and reforestation. Graph your data.
4Geography--Map the vegetation around your school grounds. Conduct a tree planting project.9Social Studies/Language Arts--Interview people of many ages to learn how trees touch their lives. Write an article or letter to the editor of your local or school newspaper sharing your findings.
5Art--Design a T-shirt with a forest theme. Invite a local reporter to photograph your class in the T-shirts.10Science--Keep a log of how wildlife use your neighborhood trees. Describe the animals (insects, too!) and how they use flowers, leaves, limbs, seeds and bark. Surprises await you!

Arbor Day Scavenger Hunt
Use your senses to find and check off each item.    Happy hunting!

  • A tree younger than you
  • An insect on a tree
  • A songbird in a tree
  • A bird's nest in a tree (don't disturb it!)
  • A twig with a "face"
  • An animal's home in a tree
  • A tree shaped like a triangle
  • A tree that's changed something
  • A stump telling a tree's history
  • Dried tree"blood" (sap)
  • Last year's leaf still on a tree
  • Three leaves with different shades of green
  • A partially eaten seed cone
  • A tree with a healed injury
  • A tree that could use your help
  • A tree three times as tall as you
  • A seedling just sprouting near an older tree
  • Five things you've used today that have come from trees

  • Why does an old man plant a tree?
    by Robert H Mealey

    My friends quite often ask of me,
    Why does an old man plant a tree?
    It grows so slow it will not pay,
    A profit for you anyway.
    Then why in storm and winter cold,
    Do you plant when you are so old?

    The answer seems hard to define,
    When muscles ache and they are mine.
    But I just cannot stand to see,
    A space where there should be a tree.
    So that in part as years unfold,
    Is why I plant when I'm so old.

    I know that animals, bugs and things,
    Love trees, and so do such as go on wings.
    So creatures wild that benefit,
    Is one more reason I can't quit
    From planting trees while I can hold,
    My planting hoe, though I'm so old.

    They say that those retired from labor,
    Should fish and play and talk to neighbor.
    They say also that folks in leisure,
    Should do the things which give them pleasure.
    And so the thought on which I'm sold,
    I'll plant some trees though I'm so old.

    As time goes on my trees will grow.
    So tall and clean and row on row.
    The furry folk will have a home,
    The birds can nest, and kids can roam.
    And all of this as I have told,
    I planted trees though I'm so old.

    And then there is my family,
    Young folks who will follow me.
    I'd like to leave them with some land,
    Stocked with trees and looking grand.
    These gifts I value more than gold,
    So I plant some trees though I'm so old.

    And taxes too for schools and roads,
    With jobs and lumber for abodes.
    I won't see these things, I won't be here.
    But to my mind it's very clear.
    The words of some who could be polled,
    Might thank a man who is so old.

    Man should be proud of what's his own,
    And how he's managed what he's grown.
    But management must be begun,
    By planting seedlings one by one.
    And so my pride I shall uphold,
    I'll plant some trees though I'm so old.

    So when my friends ask of me,
    Why does and old man plant a tree?
    Perhaps the lines above explain,
    How aching back and limbs in pain,
    May by commitment be controlled,
    To plant my trees though I'm so old.


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