Historic Tree Stories
At over 90 years old, the Survivor Tree is an American elm located in the heart of downtown Oklahoma City. It survived the bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. The most destructive act of terrorism on American soil before September 11, 2001, the bombing killed 168 people and injured hundreds more.
Before the bombing, the tree provided the only shade in the building’s parking lot. People would arrive early to work just to be able to park under the shade of the tree’s branches. After the bombing, the tree was nearly chopped down to recover pieces of evidence embedded in it from the force of the 4,000-pound bomb. But investigators were able to recover evidence from the tree’s trunk and branches.
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum was created to honor “those who were killed, those who survived, and those changed forever” by the 1995 bombing. The Memorial and Museum are dedicated to educating visitors about the impact of violence, informing people about events surrounding the bombing, and inspiring hope and healing through lessons learned by those affected.
Hundreds of community citizens, family members of those who were killed, survivors, and rescue workers came together to write the mission statement for the memorial. One of the statement’s resolutions dictated that “one of the components of the Memorial must be the Survivor Tree located on the south half of the Journal Record Building block.” The Memorial design was unveiled in 1996 with prominence put on the remarkable elm.
The Survivor Tree has become a symbol of human resilience. Today, as a tribute to renewal and rebirth, the inscription around the tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”
At a staggering 65 feet tall, the Angel Oak has shaded John’s Island, South Carolina, for more than 1,400 years. That means it sprouted 1,000 years before Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Historic records trace the ownership of the live oak and surrounding land back to 1717, when Abraham Waight received it as part of a small land grant. The tree remained in the ownership of the Waight family for four generations, and was part of a marriage settlement for Justus Angel and Martha Waight Tucker Angel.
Today the Angel Oak has become the focal point of a public park, boasting a crown that is 160 feet in diameter, a trunk of 25-feet in circumference, and an overall spread of 17,100 square feet. The Angel Oak is thought to be one of the oldest living things east of the Mississippi River.
Johnny Appleseed Apple Tree
John Chapman, born in Leominster, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1774, had a plan for the betterment of man. Following his religious beliefs, Chapman sought to bring harmony between man and nature. Chapman believed God manifested Himself in the plants and animals of the outdoors. His mission was confirmed when, after a near-fatal accident, he experienced a vision of fruit-lined streets in Heaven. In the late 1780s, he set out in a canoe to plant apple tree orchards. The trees were intended to provide food for settlers and pioneers as they traveled westward during the expansion era. Each orchard provided a tree or two for farmers to take home and plant. Payment was accepted, but never required.
Ashland County, Ohio, was a favorite site for Chapman, whose sister, Perces, lived in the area. At the nearby Harvey Farm in Nova, Ohio, he slept in the small outbuilding, refusing to sleep indoors. Here, Chapman planted an orchard of his favorite Rambo apple trees, one of which still grows and produces fruit, though a storm in the spring of 1996 nearly toppled the old survivor. In the years before, American Forests’ representatives visited the tree to cultivate seeds and collect cuttings. Today, John Chapman rests at Archer Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Apollo XIV was launched on January 31, 1971, from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and was the third lunar landing. The entire mission lasted for nine days and included two moon walks, totaling 9 hours and 21 minutes. The Lunar Module landed near the intended Fra Mauro site of Apollo XIII, carrying three Americans: Captain Alan Shepard, USN; Major Stuart Roosa, USAF; and CDR Edgar Mitchell, USN. Once reaching the Moon, Shepard and Mitchell went to the surface where they walked 1.7 miles while Roosa kept the craft in orbit.
Stuart “Smoky” Roosa, a former smoke jumper for the US Forest Service, had always felt a special fondness for the USFS’s task to protect and preserve our nation’s forests. So when Roosa learned he would fly to the Moon, he was determined to “fly something in honor of the Forest Service.” The service suggested seeds collected from across the country, including those from an American sycamore. Roosa’s efforts were an unprecedented mix of forestry and astronautics. The Moon Sycamores planted after the mission stand today as living tributes to Roosa’s effort.
Gettysburg Address Honey Locust
Shortly after the historic Civil War battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in July 1863, the state’s governor, Andrew Curtin, commissioned lawyer David Wills to acquire land for a soldiers’ cemetery. Wills purchased 17 acres on Cemetery Hill, one of the battle landmarks along the Union line. The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. As President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech there about the sacrifices of the dead as an inspiration to the living, a lone locust tree stood silently by. The honey locust remains a vibrant living memorial, and a reminder of the ideas expressed in the Gettysburg Address, one of the most inspiring speeches in American history.
Today, the cemetery serves as the final resting place for 5,500 veterans of every American war. The Gettysburg Address Honey Locust stands on a prominent hilltop, about a hundred yards from the spot where Lincoln spoke.
President George Washington Tulip Poplar
George Washington was the first President of the United States. Although he spent many years as a public servant, he was also a successful plantation owner. Washington was an avid tree planter, and he experimented with different combinations of trees and plants to improve their quality. The tulip poplar he planted in 1785 at his Mount Vernon estate, located on the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia, is one of the nation’s most precious living tributes to the wisdom and vision of a man so instrumental in the founding of our nation.
Tidal Basin Flowering Cherry
The spectacular flowering Japanese cherry trees adorning the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC, were a gift to the United States from Japan in 1912. The trees have become a herald of spring, a powerful symbol of the enduring friendship between the people of Japan and the United States, and some of the most recognized and celebrated trees in America.
Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo donated the 3,000 cherry trees to Washington, DC, as a gift of friendship. The first two trees were planted in a ceremony on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin by First Lady Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador. Today, the original Japanese Yoshino Cherry trees encircle the Tidal Basin. Each year, hundreds of people visit the nation’s capital to admire the blossoming bouquet of pink and white flowers during the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Walden Wooden Red Maple
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads,” wrote Henry David Thoreau during his two-year sojourn in a cabin near Walden Pond, just outside Concord, Massachusetts. Seeking a spiritually fulfilling relationship with the natural world, Thoreau left organized society in 1845 “to watch the progress of the seasons.” His journal notes and observations were later published in Walden, or Life in the Woods, and have since provided a timeless source of naturalist inspiration.
As part of the national effort to preserve Walden Woods, trees have been grown from seeds cultivated from trees that shaded Thoreau as he contemplated nature.