Dr. Arbor Talks Trees

Teacher's Guide

Often trees are taken for granted. We see them everyday, but we may never even notice them.

Without trees, we would miss a great deal. Trees provide everything from the air we breathe to the roof we live under. Trees also provide food and shelter for birds, animals and insects.

Just think a popsicle would be impossible to eat if it weren’t for trees. And pizza would be real cold if it weren’t for the cardboard box from a tree.

Dr. Arbor Talks Trees focuses on tree anatomy and physiology. Students will learn some of the basic inner workings, chemical principles, and fun ways to get to know trees better. Dr. Arbor Talks Trees will also promote how your students can celebrate trees by developing their own Arbor Day activities.

This website is designed for students in sixth through eighth grades and will help them gain a greater appreciation of trees and their contributions to our lives.

If this website is not the right level for your students, please check out our other websites focused on trees -- Trees Are Terrific (K-2 grades) and The Secret Life of Trees (3-5 grades).

Dr. Arbor Talks Trees will help your students learn

  • Tree anatomy
  • The inner workings of trees
  • How trees grow and develop
  • The many uses of trees and their by-products
  • How to identify trees

If you complete our online request form, we will send you a poster for your classroom featuring Dr. Arbor Talks Trees.

Suggested Activities


Adopt a Tree

Find a tree in a backyard, neighborhood, schoolyard, or a park and observe it very carefully for a year. How does it change throughout the year? What happens during the different seasons? What happens when there is a drought or a rainy season?

The students could draw or take photos of the trees at various times of the year. In the classroom, you could have a timeline or area that shows the tree’s changes during the year. Ask your students to write poems, jingles, or stories about a tree’s life.


Twig Detectives

Twigs can help identify a tree no matter what time of year it is. After the students have reviewed the “Twigs Tell the Tale” section of the website do the following activity.

Collect twig samples that are 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) long from six different trees in your area.

Divide the class into teams and give each team a twig from a different tree. Have them note the distinguishing characteristics of each twig – buds, leaf scales, bark, and lenticels.

Now take the students on a group walk to find the six trees. As you stop at each tree, discuss what kind of tree it is and which twig matches those on the tree.

While there you can also discuss other winter ID characteristics that can help identify the tree such as shape, form, bark texture, bark color and fruit or seeds that are still on the tree.


Tree Food

Trees give us lots of different foods. Ask the students to describe four foods that come from trees. Here’s a list to get you started:

apples cloves nutmeg
allspice coconuts olives
almonds dates oranges
apricots figs papaya
avocados grapefruit peaches
bananas lemons pecans
cacao (cocoa) limes persimmons
cashews mangos pistachio
cherries maple syrup plums
cinnamon nectarines walnuts

Have each student choose a tree food to research and share with the class. The person who chooses apples might bring in different apples to taste and see if they taste differently. Another project may be to research Johnny Appleseed.

The one who chooses figs might draw a picture of where in the world figs are raised and how they are used.

Then have a tree food celebration day. You can bring in fruit, nuts, orange juice, apple juice, fig cookies, and other tree foods for the students to taste.


Grow a Tropical Fruit

Many seeds found in tropical fruit are easy to germinate and grow as indoor houseplants. Fruit such as avocado, grapefruit, lemons, limes, mangos, papaya and oranges will all grow easily in a pot.

Have the class compare the seeds found in each of these fruits. They will range from small peppercone-like (papaya) seed to fuzzy lima beam-shaped seed (mango). After removing the seeds from the fruit and cleaning them off, place the seeds in a pot filled with commercially available houseplant potting soil. Water well and place in a bright sunny window. Keep it moist. Some seeds will start to germinate in a couple weeks and others will take more than a month.

Be sure to put a plant label in the pot to record the name of the plant the seed is from and the date it was planted. It's like a birth date. You can then keep track of how long it took for germination.


Trees for All

If you like breathing clean air having clean water, resting under a shade tree and enjoying all the other things a tree provides you, then the best way to show you care is to plant another tree.

It's not only fashionable to plant trees on Arbor Day, it's an "in" thing to do any day. Trees make great birthday presents, wedding gifts, anniversary gifts, graduation gifts or just because gifts. Are there places in your school yard where you could plant a tree? If not, ask community officials for suggestions of where a tree is needed. Trees might be planted on public lands in the community. Schools, churches, camps and parks are great places to plant trees.

Have a tree planting ceremony with the class, other classmates, and the school's neighbors. It's like planting a living time capsule.


Designing Leaf Art

Start collecting lots of different leaves and pressing them. Start in early spring and collect through the growing season so you can assemble a wide variety of colors, sizes, textures, and kinds of leaves.

This may require lots of leaves depending on the size of your class.

The fun part begins when you look at the leaves and realize that by printing various leaves you can construct a picture or design. It can represent animals, flowers, people, landscapes, buildings or other things in nature. Remember the fish picture in the leaf pressing section.

Use a small amount of white glue to attach the leaves to a sturdy backing like poster board, construction paper or a file folder.


From Forest to Board

Have the students research how lumber is made. They might start by looking in a home center or lumber yard. Look at all the different sizes that lumber comes in as well as the number of different kinds of trees the lumber comes from. Kinds they are apt to see are pine, oak, maple, poplar, birch, cedar, walnut and cherry. Look at the different colors and graining.

Another aspect can be to focus on how lumber is marketed in the trade - by board feet. What does that mean? It is: 1 inch thick x 1 foot wide x 1 foot long. A one foot square, one inch thick.

If your community has a specialty wood working store that caters to the hobbyist or craftsmen, it would be an interesting field trip. It has woods from around the world.


Arbor Day

Arbor Day History

The first Arbor Day was observed in Nebraska with more than 1,000,000 trees being planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872.

In 1869, the Nebraska legislature passed a law that for every acre of trees planted by settlers, $100 of their property’s value would be exempt from taxes. So many settlers took advantage of this act and many of them did not have to pay any taxes at all. Soon so little money was coming into state coffers that the legislature repealed the law in 1877. This act was responsible for the planting of thousands of tree groves across Nebraska.

National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April. Across the United States local Arbor days are held on dates best for tree planting. In some southern states, Arbor Day is held in January and February and in the northern U. S. as late as May. Arbor Day is celebrated in many countries around the world.

J. Sterling Morton is credited with being the founder of Arbor Day. Morton and his wife moved from Detroit in 1854 to the Nebraska territory. Morton started Nebraska’s first newspaper spreading the word about his love for trees.

In early 1872, J. Sterling Morton proposed a tree planting day to be called “Arbor Day” to the Nebraska State Board of Agriculture. The Board approved the first Arbor Day for April 10, 1872.

Morton served as Secretary of Agriculture for President Grover Cleveland. His son, Joy Morton founded the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois in 1922.

Arbor Day Facts

  • The first Arbor Day was celebrated in Nebraska on April 10, 1872.
  • Nebraska City, Nebraska is the home of Arbor Day.
  • Arbor is Latin for “tree”.
  • The first Arbor Day in Illinois was held in 1887, but the state legislature waited until 1949 to legally declare the last Friday in April as Arbor Day.
  • Awards were given to counties and people who planted the most trees on the first Arbor Day in Nebraska. More than 1,000,000 trees were planted on the first Arbor Day in Nebraska.
  • The permanent date for Arbor Day in Nebraska was changed to April 22, J. Sterling Morton’s birthday in 1885.
  • An Arbor Day quote by J. Sterling Morton, “Arbor Day is not like other holidays. Each of those reposes on the past, while Arbor Day proposes for the future.”
  • J. Sterling Morton called the settlement of America "a diary of destruction," Morton said there was too much activity in cutting down and too little in planting out of trees."
  • President Theodore Roosevelt once proclaimed "A people without children would face a hopeless future; a country without trees is almost as hopeless."
  • J. Sterling Morton’s estate is now Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
  • In the late 1800’s a 456-page Arbor Day Celebration manual was published. Even though this publication warned not to make observances too long, one suggested program included nine musical pieces, tree essays, the planting of trees, nine recitations and one address. These types of long-winded programs contributed to a drop in popularity of Arbor Day celebrations.
  • Birdsey Northrup, Secretary of the Connecticut Board of Education, is credited with making Arbor Day an annual program in schools across the United States.
  • The National Arbor Day is celebrated on the last Friday in April as declared by President Nixon in 1970.
  • Edward Scanlon, the editor of “Trees Magazine” originated the idea of a National Arbor Day in 1936.
  • Euless, Texas is called “ Tree City USA” because it has the largest Arbor Day observance with over 1,000,000 people attending.
  • In 1978, students in Maine petitioned the state legislature to move Arbor Day from April to May because of the cold weather at that time of year. The legislature designated the third full week in May as Arbor Week in Maine.
  • The oak was named America’s national tree in a poll conducted by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
  • In 2005, President Bush planted an American chestnut on the White House grounds to commemorate Arbor Day.
  • Arbor Day is observed in more than 50 countries around the world. In Iceland it is called Students’ Afforestation Day. In India Arbor Day is called the National Festival of Tree Planting. Japan celebrates Greenery Day on April 29. This date celebrates trees and the appreciation of nature. Until 1988 this date was a holiday celebrating the birthday of Emperor Showa. When he died it was decided to change the holiday to Greenery Day in honor of the Emperor’s love for nature. Korea observes Tree Loving Week in April. In Israel they celebrate The New Year's Days of Trees. The United Kingdom celebrates National Tree Week in November. Tree Week is the UK’s largest annual tree planting campaign and a nationwide festival of trees.  Its purpose is to raise public awareness of trees and to encourage tree planting and good management. Voluntary organizations, local authorities, schools and tree wardens, among others, support the week by arranging local events throughout the UK.  About a million trees are planted during the week and in 2000, a Guinness World Record was set for tree planting by hand – 107,781 over a 3-day period. (Source – The Tree Council).

Arbor Day Activities


Certificate of Completion

Click here to download a certificate of completion to give to your students.


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