Arbor Day at Lincoln Park Zoo

April 26, 2023

Arbor Day was first celebrated in the Nebraska Territory in 1872 as a tree-planting holiday for settlers to the area. More than 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska on that first holiday. After that, more and more states joined the celebration. All 50 states recognize it now; National Arbor Day takes place on the last Friday in April to coincide with the best tree-planting weather of the season.

The zoo has some exciting plans in store for this year’s Arbor Day celebration on April 28. For one thing, we’ll be honoring the long, storied life of the bur oak on the South Lawn, which is estimated to be between 250–300 years old.

Celebrating The Bur Oak

Despite years of loving care from Horticulture staff, including root invigoration measures to improve the quality of the soil from which the tree draws its nutrients, the oak has reached its natural end of life. Staff will be on hand to tell the bur oak’s story and help guests say goodbye. You can write thank-you notes to this amazing tree, see archival photos, and play tree-themed games.

The tree will hopefully live on in other ways. Zoo horticulturists recently provided The Morton Arboretum with 36 stems from the bur oak, with hopes that they can eventually propagate a new generation of bur oaks. This will be done through a process called grafting, in which parts of different plants are joined so that they continue to grow together.

Grafted plants will give the bur oak the best chance at successful propagation, and they’ll be housed at the Morton Arboretum’s greenhouse under the care of its experts for the next three or four years, until they are tall enough to plant outside.

Arbor Day Schedule for Friday, April 28

The zoo will also celebrate the day with a slate of activities you can participate in on grounds or at home.

These include:

Arboretum Tours, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Meet at Searle Visitor Center

Led by the zoo’s Horticulture experts, these 45-minute tours take you around zoo grounds so you can view significant trees and other species. Families—including children in strollers—are welcome, but the content of the tour is tailored for older audiences.

The cost of these tours is free but you must register in advance. For information and to reserve your spot, visit the Eventbrite page.

Arbor Day Activity Table, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.

South Lawn

Child and family experts from the Learning department will staff an activity table on the South Lawn that’s suitable for all ages. Come see what they’re up to and participate in some exciting nature play.

Ape Cognition & Care Demonstration, 1:30 p.m.

Regenstein Center for African Apes

Learn about the surprising ways that zoo staff care for and learn about great apes like chimpanzees and western lowland gorillas. You’ll get to see animals voluntarily participating in research that helps zoo scientists conserve animals in the wild while safeguarding species’ wellbeing at the zoo. You’ll also find out how you can Take Action With Us to support healthy forests and trees with sustainably-harvested wood and Forest Stewardship Council products.

City Nature Challenge & Virtual BioBlitz, 6 p.m.

On Zoom

As part of a worldwide event in which hundreds of cities identify species in their regions, Lincoln Park Zoo is hosting a virtual spring BioBlitz. During this one-hour Zoom presentation, you’ll learn how to use the iNaturalist app for collecting data and identifying animals and plants. From April 29-May 1, you’ll collect data in a green space near you. Then, you’ll send a few days identifying species. It’s a great way to enjoy nature in your neighborhood while helping Chicago compete in an international undertaking.

Get your friends and family together, spend some time outdoors, and support healthy forests! Find out more and register here for free.

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