In 1917, renowned botanist Charles Sprague Sargent was called upon to examine the multiple trees growing on the Mount Vernon estate. Sargent bestowed great praise upon the estate’s trees, and claimed “no trees planted by man have the human interest of the Mount Vernon trees. They belong to the nation and are one of its precious possessions.” Almost a hundred years later, Mount Vernon’s historic trees continue to receive recognition and numerous efforts are undertaken each year to ensure their survival.
Two very important members of Mount Vernon’s historic tree community are the swamp chestnut oak and the tulip poplar, both of which were planted by George Washington. The swamp chestnut oak, which is located in front of the mansion on its eastern side, was planted sometime prior to 1771. Although this tree is, unfortunately, now in decline, one can almost imagine Washington watching it grow from a sapling into a hearty tree from the comfort of his piazza. The tulip poplar–planted in 1785–currently fares much better and stands an impressive 145 feet tall. In 1976 this tree was formally declared the “Independence Tree” by Parade Magazine, which resulted in a nation-wide clamor for seeds from this very special tulip poplar. If you visit the estate, be sure to look for this famous tree directly outside the gate to the kitchen garden.
Another important tree associated with George Washington is the Cedar of Lebanon located near Washington’s Tomb. This tree was planted on December 15, 1899 in commemoration of the centennial of General Washington’s death. The sapling itself was obtained from the United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C. and delivered by a Masonic delegation on December 14. The planting ceremony was overseen by the Regent and Vice-Regents of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.
The last historic tree featured in the slideshow above is the American elm, which is located on the Northeast corner of the east lawn. Although this is the most recently planted tree discussed in this blog, circa 1900, it is nonetheless very unique. As an elm, this tree is susceptible to the devastating effects of Dutch elm disease. However, this particular American elm has not yet succumbed to this fungal disease, in part because the gardeners at Mount Vernon administer annual treatments to protect it. The Horticulture Department here at Mount Vernon has also implemented another rather ingenious way to protect this elm and other large trees on the estate. Because large trees–like tall buildings–are useful conductors for lightning, all trees over a certain height are outfitted with lightning rods. If you look carefully at the last image in the slideshow, you can see the green lightning rod cables wrapping around the trunk of the American elm. Another fun fact: the very first lightning rods placed on the trees at Mount Vernon were installed under the direction of Thomas Edison!
The historic trees at Mount Vernon are truly “precious possessions.” Thanks to the copious efforts made by the Horticulture Department, you can marvel at these four trees–as well as a multitude of others–during your visit to Mount Vernon.