Hazardous tree on the White House lawn

Firefighters would not work under this tree.

Jackson magnolia white house

Above: The historic Jackson Magnolia can be seen on the left in this November 6, 2004 photo by William Phillips.

(Originally published at 12:30 p.m. December 27, 2017)

Firefighters who work in the woods, worry about hazardous trees, or double as arborists will be interested in what is happening to to a nearly 200-year old magnolia tree on the White House lawn. Planted by Andrew Jackson in memory of his wife who died days after the 1828 election, it is the oldest tree on the 18 acres surrounding the building.

For the last decade or two it has been literally on life support held up by a steel post and a network of cables. The attachment points for the cables are deteriorating and much of the interior of the two trunks are rotten. The tree is near the location where the press is penned in when covering the departure of the President on Marine 1, the large Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter. The reporters should be wearing hard hats, but that would not be enough protection if the rotor wash brings down the hazardous tree.

The Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the southern magnolia or bull bay, is native to the southeastern United States from coastal North Carolina to central Florida, and west to East Texas and Oklahoma.

Specialists from the United States National Arboretum were brought in to assess the once magnificent tree. Their report said in part:

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.

Jackson magnolia white house
Screen shot from CNN video

While the President is away during this holiday week a large portion of the tree is being removed. One of the two trunks was cut down Wednesday morning. Both are rotten inside and the remaining trunk will eventually also have to be removed.  Mrs. Trump, who assessed the condition of the tree and approved the removal, asked that the wood be saved.

From CNN:

The circle of life

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. CNN has learned the plan is that another Jackson Magnolia, born directly from the original, will soon be planted in its place, for history to live on.

Jackson magnolia white house

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Hazardous tree on the White House lawn”

  1. Useful background! Sadly that some of the public didn’t instantly grab the significance of ‘200-year-old tree’ when it was insinuated it was like some iconic important historical monument (i.e. solid statue) not a very old, rotted-out tree. Trees will do that. Circle of life and so forth. What no one knew was that it’s actually a bit of a scandal that it has been literally propped up for so long – a waste of taxpayer money! Had they taken it out thirty years ago and put in a sapling, as in normal procedures with decrepit trees, it would be a nice, big hearty tree right now and who would have known about it today?

  2. All things that live have finite life spans. This tree is terminal, it’s death is eminent and it should be removed from life support. Clones – in the scientific sense – are available to replace it.

  3. Thank you for this informative article… and for not making it political like several other media outlets have.


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