Late last year it was announced that one of America’s most historic trees, the Jackson magnolia that has stood by the south entrance to the White House, would be torn down. After a thorough investigation by arborists from the National Arboretum they came to the conclusion that the tree could not be sustained. It was being held up by supporting cabling and otherwise would have been toppled years ago. They presented this to First Lady Melania Trump who made the decision to have it taken down.
The tree was planted in 1828 by President Andrew Jackson. The campaign for the presidency that year had been brutal and divisive with Jackson defeating John Quincy Adams. Jackson’s wife Rachael’s health had been declining and she died only a few days after his election. When Jackson arrived in Washington he brought with him a sprout from Rachael’s favorite magnolia tree at their home the Hermitage.
Over the years it has grown into a sprawling tree nearly as tall as the White House itself. A companion magnolia tree was planted on the other side of the South Portico later for symmetry. The tree has been in the background for countless visits by other heads of state, visiting dignitaries and other White House events. The tree was featured on the $20 bill from 1928 to 1998 and Barack Obama took a seedling of the tree with him as a gift to Cuba when he visited in 2016. The tree was damaged in 1994 when a plane crashed on the South Lawn of the White House cutting off one of the tree’s massive branches.
The tree’s demise has been a long time coming. As long as 50 years ago three trunks emerged from its base and in 1970 one of these broke off exposing a large cavity. The cavity was filled with concrete to prevent decay which did irreparable damage to the tree. At the time this was considered to be the best practice but it soon proved to be a mistake. The concrete was removed in 1981 and replaced with a pole and cabling system to maintain stability. Over the years the high winds created by the landing of Marine Force One did not help the tree and nature was running its course. By 2017 the back of the trunk was almost gone and what remained was crumbling. Experts determined that one trunk could be saved but its days would be numbered as well. The leaves were thinning and the branches were becoming too weak to support more cabling. Every effort was made to save the tree but with the hazard of it falling at any time it could no longer be supported. Most of the tree was trimmed between Christmas and New Years.
The loss of the tree was not unexpected and White House groundskeepers have been growing offspring of the Jackson magnolia in an undisclosed location. Some of these are believed to be 8-10 feet in height and one will be planted in the original’s place. The wood from the tree will be saved and used for some project in the near future. That wood may be the world’s most expensive reclaimed wood and will probably look nice in the White House.