The 1st of September is Arbour day, and in South Africa September is designated National Arbour Month, a month in which individuals are encouraged to plant trees and consider the importance of trees and plants in the natural environment.
Here at Ambius we are passionate about including plants in the working environment. We know that plants can have significant productivity and wellbeing benefits for employees, and can improve visitors’ perceptions of a business. And you don’t have to take our word for it; there is a large body of scientific evidence that substantiates these claims.
But where does the Arbour day observance come from? What’s the history behind this ‘holiday’ and how has it evolved from a day to a month? This blog post looks at the history of Arbour day around the world and in South Africa.
Certainly when I was at school, I remember celebrating Arbour day by either planting a tree, or by walking around the Rondebosch common picking up litter. As this was done at the beginning of September in Cape Town, either event was usually a damp and chilly affair.
The 1st of September is (supposed to at least) mark the beginning of Spring in the Southern hemisphere, but in Cape Town the weather gods have other ideas and the 1st of September is usually cold and wet. But I digress…
Origins of tree planting
According to Wikipedia, Arbour Day (from the Latin Arbour, meaning tree) is a day on which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees. Though usually observed in spring, the specific date varies across the world depending on climate and suitable planting seasons.
The first documented Arbour day planting festival was held in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo, and was organized by its mayor in 1594. The location is still planted with lime and horse-chestnut trees. The small Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra held the first modern Arbour Day, an initiative launched in 1805 by the local priest with the enthusiastic support of the entire population. The priest – don Juan Abern Samtrés – even drafted a manifesto in defence of trees that was sent to surrounding towns to spread love and respect for nature.
Arbour day in the USA and further afield
The first American Arbour Day originated in Nebraska and was organised by J. Sterling Morton, a Nebraska newspaper editor who also served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. He had a large estate on which he indulged his fascination with trees, planting many rare varieties and heirloom apple trees. Respected as an agriculturalist, Morton sought to instruct people in the modern techniques of farming and forestry. Among his most significant achievements was the founding of Arbour Day; on April 10, 1872 an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska.
But it was a gentleman with the unlikely name of Birdsey Northrop – farmer, teacher, preacher, educational reformer, world traveller, prominent writer/lecturer, town planner and diplomatic envoy – who was responsible for globalizing Arbour Day when he visited Japan in 1883 and delivered his Arbour Day and Village Improvement message. He also brought his enthusiasm for Arbour Day to Australia, Canada, and Europe, and in the same year, the American Forestry Association made Northrop the Chairman of the committee to campaign for Arbour Day nationwide.
Evolution of Arbour Day in South Africa
South Africa did not have a historical culture of tree planting, so it was only in the 1970’s that the real need to promote tree planting was recognised. The concept of National Arbour Day arose from the 1973 Green Heritage Campaign, but it took until 1982 for the former Department of Forestry to obtain approval to celebrate National Arbour Day from 1983.
In 1996 the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry extended Arbour Day from one day to one week in order to emphasise the importance of tree planting in South Africa: with National Arbour Week lasting from 1–7 September.
In 2018 the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries took a resolution to extend Arbour Week to Arbour Month, which is why we now celebrate annually from the 1st -30th September.
According to the website SouthAfrica.com, National Arbour Month in South Africa is a time when South Africans of all ages are encouraged to celebrate the beauty and importance of trees, and are urged to get involved by planting a tree. The aim is to educate the public on the benefits of the different aspects of forestry during National Arbour Month.
For the sake of simplicity, the term ‘forestry’ is divided into three different categories: indigenous forests, commercial forests and ‘metropolitan’ forests.
Types of Forestry Recognised during Arbour Month:
Indigenous forests provide a home for wildlife, attract thousands of visitors and provide trees and herbs which are used for natural remedies. They provide a barrier against soil erosion and continue to sustain their environment. Commercial forests are planted with the specific purpose of providing timber, but their role is equally important since they not only provide people with jobs, but they also provide wood which is needed for industry. Metropolitan forests is the term given to the trees, plants and lawns which are grown in cities and towns across the country. Without these small pieces of greenery amidst urban development, our environments would be dull and lifeless.
Metropolitan forests are of special interest to us here at Ambius. We know that human beings have an innate and genetically determined affinity with the natural world (the term for this is biophilia and we’ll be looking at this concept in more detail in our next blog post) but the fact that more people than ever before live in an urban environment devoid of greenery means that these metropolitan forests are of increasing importance. The importance of Arbour month thus cannot be underestimated.
If you want assistance in greening your interior spaces, contact Ambius. We’re here to help you connect with nature.