Planting a tree can be a historic moment

The Associated Press
Friday March 23, 2001

Very quietly, history is coming alive in the yards of thousands of Americans and it is a tree, not a historian, that is doing the telling – telling of patriots and battles, of musicians and industrialists, of space exploration and slavery. 

The trees are the “product” of a program created by American Forests, a nonprofit conservation group in Jacksonville, Fla.  

The program – Famous and Historic Trees (FHT) – is one of several conservation and habitat efforts spearheaded by the organization. 

FHT has identified some 2,000 trees that are in some way connected to a historic event or famous person.  

Of these, 75 different trees are offered for sale at prices ranging from $35 to $50. Most are $35. With two exceptions, all are direct descendants of trees still alive and ranging in age from about 30 to 225 years old. Among the most popular are these: 

• Johnny Appleseed Apple. In the late 1780s, John Chapman planted an orchard of his favorite apple, Rambo, at a farm in Nova, Ohio. Over time, all but one tree died, was cut down or somehow destroyed. Cuttings and seeds from the surviving tree were gathered by American Forests and grown on to develop the trees now offered in the FHT program. 

• George Washington Tulip Poplar. Washington planted this tree in 1785 at his Mount Vernon home where it survives today. It has grown so old that its blossoms each spring require hand pollination if they are to produce seeds, and that is exactly what is done to produce the seeds that are then germinated to grow the saplings offered by FHT. 

• Moon Sycamore. Stuart Roosa was one of three astronauts aboard Apollo XIV when it was launched Jan. 31, 1971. Tree seeds collected from trees across the country was part of the cargo because Roosa, a former U.S. Forest Service employee, wanted to do something to honor the service.  

Among the seeds were those from an American sycamore, and back on earth, the seeds were germinated, grown on and donated to colleges and universities. The seeds produced from these trees are the ones used by the FHT to grow into saplings. 

• Others are a pin oak, sycamore, sweetgum and weeping willow from the Graceland estate of Elvis Presley, a sycamore from the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland, an oleander from the Fort Meyers, Fla., home of Thomas Edison, a sycamore from the estate of Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich., and a green ash from the birthplace of George Washington Carver in Diamond, Mo. 

To grow these trees, representatives from American Forests each year gather the seeds – in whatever form – from the original tree.  

The seeds (seeds, acorns and so on) are then germinated at a nursery in Florida and grown on as seedlings. When they are big enough – usually 18 to 24 inches tall – they are offered for sale.  

At any one time, Famous and Historic Trees has 75,000 trees in its nursery – a population that is doubling every year because of the popularity of the program, according to spokesperson Susan T. Corbett. 

By collecting seeds, and in a few cases, cuttings, the direct link to the original tree that in some way has witnessed history is maintained, she said. 

The Johnny Appleseed tree is the most notable of trees propagated by cutting, rather than seed.  

This is done to improve the performance and winter-hardiness of the tree. Most fruit trees grown by homeowners and orchardists are really two trees – the “good” variety that is grafted onto a vigorous rootstock. The Johnny Appleseed tree is grown in this way. 

Each FHT tree comes with a growing kit that includes a translucent plastic sleeve to protect it for its first few years away from the nursery, fertilizer, a stake to support the sleeve, netting to protect it from birds, planting instructions and information about the tree. It is guaranteed to grow or it will be replaced. 

Most of the trees will grow most anywhere in the country. FHT uses the United States Department of Agriculture cold hardiness map to detail specific zones where the particular tree will thrive.  

Most will do just fine in zones 4 through 8 that covers all but the most extreme climates in the country. 

How many of these trees have been set out since the program began in 1988 is not clear, but interest in the program has prompted the nursery to double its production in recent years, Corbett said. Proceeds from the program are used to improve it and fund other projects of American Forests, such as Global ReLeaf.  

That program has resulted in the planting of more than 15 million trees in some 500 urban and community forest projects. 



On the Net: http://www.americanforests.org.