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Happy Arbor Day! Plant a tree or make a potentially tax-deductible donation to an environmental group

J. Sterling Morton started Arbor Day back in 1872 with a simple idea: Set aside a special day for tree planting.

Our backyard trees Arbor Day 4-29-2016Our backyard tree line. That's an oak at left, a crepe myrtle in the middle and a fig to the right, with some junipers and more oaks at back. Even on cloudy, gray days like this Arbor Day 2016, I love looking out at them.

Morton saw the value of trees in the wide open high plains of Nebraska, where he had moved in 1854. The tallest of our plants serve as windbreaks to keep soil in place and as homes for wildlife. Their fruit provides food. They are used as fuel and building materials.

Best of all, on a hot summer day, trees offer welcome shade.

"I never before knew the full value of trees.
Under them I breakfast, dine, write, read
and receive my company." – Thomas Jefferson

1 million+ tree debut: An estimated 1 million-plus trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day on April 10, 1872.

From that event, Morton's idea took root, with Arbor Day growing into an annual national celebration.

Arbor Day officially is the last Friday in April. Some locales, however, celebrate on other days based on the best tree planting times in their areas.

Tax-smart ways to hug trees: If you're so inclined, today (or this weekend or any day you have time) plant a sapling or something larger in your yard.

If literally getting your hands dirty isn't your thing, then contribute to groups like the Arbor Day Foundation. It's a 501(c)(3) nonprofit conservation and education organization.

That tax code designation means that your gift, as long as you follow the Internal Revenue Service's rules, could provide you a deduction on your 2016 taxes.

You also could give to your favorite environmental group or pay to have a tree planted in your neighborhood's park.

In each contribution case, make sure the group to which you're giving is an IRS registered and qualified nonprofit. If it's not, then your gift won't count as a tax deduction.

You can check groups' nonprofit tax status by using the IRS exempt organizations online search tool.

"He who plants a tree plants hope." – Lucy Larcom

Advice from a treeThe spreading value of trees: Regardless of how you celebrate trees, today and everyday, enjoy what these magnificent plants do for all of us on micro and macro levels.

That old oak under which you've spread your picnic blanket makes for a wonderful day outside with your family and friends. That single tree also, over a a 50-year life span, can generate $31,250 worth of air pollution control, recycle $37,500 worth of water, and control $31,500 worth of soil erosion.

Trees also, as the drawing at right shows, offer us some good advice about making the most of our lives.

So hug a tree today. Give in some way to ensure they keep growing.

And if your gift qualifies, deduct it on your taxes. Then use those tax savings next year to make more tree-loving donations.

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