The last Friday of this month is National Arbor Day. It's America's oldest environmental holiday, and it's all about planting trees.
“It was founded in 1872 in Nebraska City by J. Sterling Morton. The reason why he put Arbor Day together was because in the plain states there were no trees," Danny Cohn, with the Arbor Day Foundation, said. "Trees are a necessity to life, we need them for food and shelter and so on the very first Arbor Day in 1872, 1 million trees were planted in the state of Nebraska.”
President Richard Nixon later signed the holiday into national law, and people all over the country celebrate by planting trees on that day. Cohn said the holiday serves as a good reminder of all the ways trees benefit us.
“There are a lot of studies on trees and their benefits on health," Cohn said. "We use the term healing. There is a calmness and serene benefit of having trees in your yard and in a nearby park. And we see lower asthma rates, lower blood pressure rates, higher life satisfaction, just from being around trees.”
It turns out there are a lot of ways trees affect people that aren’t often talked about. Ann Koenig is a community forester with the Missouri Department of Conservation. She works on a project for the department called Trees Work, which aims to spread the word on the different ways trees affect our lives.
“When I first worked as a community forester, I remember meeting with police officers who thought you know can we do something about the trees in the park because that's a place for people to hide, criminals to hide," Koenig said. "But it turns out when you actually look at where crime occurs and you take a map of where exactly crime is occurring and where exactly trees are, the neighborhoods with trees have, I think, 12 percent fewer crimes.”
Aside from the effect trees can have on the crime rate in neighborhoods, trees can also help people feel more satisfied at work.
“People that have a view outside of trees in nature take 15 percent fewer sick days," Koenig said. "It's just incredible that just a view of a building versus a view of something natural can keep you at work and not only stay more and take 15 percent fewer sick days but you report feeling more excited and encouraged at work.”
Koenig said most people know that trees keep air clean and are a great resource to build with, but few people realize all the ways trees can work for them.
“You can save about 25 percent of your heating and cooling costs by strategically placing trees around," Koenig said. "Which the thing is, the same time you're saving on heating and cooling costs you're also increasing your real estate value by an average of $8,000.”
Spreading awareness of these benefits is a goal for the Arbor Day Foundation. Cohn said when people realize all the ways trees affect their life, they’re more likely to take the time to plant a tree themselves.
“I think it's important for people to know the benefit of trees because it's the easiest thing to integrate into your life. It takes literally no more than a half an hour to plant a tree," Cohn said.
The Missouri Department of Conservation celebrates the holiday by sending a tree home with every student in the fourth grade in the state. Many cities and communities have tree planting events and celebrations throughout the month of April.