The fabled Jackson Magnolia tree sat on the south side of the White House for over 100 years, but it isn’t long for this world.
Scheduled to go down later in the week, legend has it that Andrew Jackson planted a sprout of his then late wife’s favorite tree– a magnolia from their Tennessee farm, Hermitage.
“That tree eventually grew into the sprawling magnolia the American public has come to know and recognize to this day. (A companion magnolia was planted on the opposite side of the South Portico years later or symmetry),” CNN reported.
“The official Jackson Magnolia has been in the background for numerous historic events, from state arrival ceremonies and Easter Egg Rolls, to thousands of photo ops, special and athletic activities, and countless Marine One departures and arrivals.”
It became an established fixture to the White House, but age and wear took their toll.
Deterioration of a Legend
The Jackson Magnolia, if planted by Jackson, is approximately 170 years old.
It “has eclipsed the species’ minimum life expectancy of 150 years,” according to a report by the NPS Witness Tree Protection Program. “Although precise measurements have not been obtained, the [tree] appears to have exceeded [average] expected dimensions.”
As old as it is, the tree is weak and unstable.
“Despite cavity repair work conducted in the late 1940s, the entire northwest portion of the tree has completely decayed, as has much of the interior,” the report states. The exterior is brittle, and poles and wire keep the tree “tensioned in place.” The tree likely couldn’t survive at all without this support.
Because of the deterioration, ring dating will not reveal the tree’s age– which may never be known. The tree is in bad shape.
White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said that the supportive structure does not reduce safety concerns, The Washington Post reported. High winds from Marine One could cause a limb to break off and fall on visitors and press members who “are frequently standing right in front of the magnolia when the president departs.”
The White House brought specialists from the United States National Arboretum “to assess the Magnolia grandiflora, as it is specifically termed,” CNN reported. The tree must be removed, they wrote in documents obtained by CNN:
“The overall architecture and structure of the tree is greatly compromised and the tree is completely dependent on the artificial support. Without the extensive cabling system, the tree would have fallen years ago. Presently, and very concerning, the cabling system is failing on the east trunk, as a cable has pulled through the very thin layer of wood that remains. It is difficult to predict when and how many more will fail.”
The tree has deteriorated to the point that there is no solid point at the base or trunk at which a support system would work.
Remove and Replant
The decision to remove the magnolia fell to first lady Melania Trump, who assessed the situation.
“Mrs. Trump personally reviewed the reports from the United States National Arboretum and spoke at length with her staff about exploring every option before making the decision to remove a portion of the Magnolia tree,” Grisham told CNN. She requested that wood from the tree be preserved.
Having been there longer than any human has been alive, the tree has lived through many administrations, but it reached the end of its natural life years ago. The fact that it was sustained for so long is admirable.
The magnolia “would serve as a living monument to [Rachel, Jackson’s wife] in the place she despised,” according to The Washington Post. “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that palace in Washington,” she reportedly said.
Even after the tree planted for her dies, another will take its place to fill the void in the public’s heart. CNN learned of the White House’s plan:
“However disappointing the removal of the Jackson Magnolia, the silver lining of its demise is that White House groundskeepers were prepared. For several months, at an undisclosed greenhouse-like location nearby, healthy offshoots of the tree have been growing, tended to with care and now somewhere around eight to 10 feet tall.”
The White House will plant a Jackson Magnolia, a descendant of the original, in its place.