What do a $20 bill and Ford’s Colony have in common? Both feature magnolia trees from the White House lawn.
An iconic southern magnolia tree has stood on the South Portico of the White House for nearly two centuries. The evergreen was brought to Washington as a seedling by Andrew Jackson from his Tennessee farm, the Hermitage.
The southern magnolia was a favorite of President Jackson’s wife, Rachel, who died just a few days after he was elected, and it has served as a living monument to her. The tree became a fixture in White House events, from Herbert Hoover holding Cabinet meetings beneath its sprawling branches to Richard Nixon striding past it as he left the White House for the last time after his resignation.
It appeared on the $20 bill for seven decades. Former first lady Laura Bush commissioned White House china based on the tree, and former President Barrack Obama gave a seedling from the tree to the people of China in 2016.
Around the millennium, Brian Ford saw a program on PBS about historic tree planting and found a nursery website offering saplings from trees associated with historical places, people or events.
Currently, nine Jackson Southern magnolias are scattered throughout the Colony. Patrick Dennehey, horticulturist for Ford’s Colony, has located and marked the Jackson magnolias along with other historical trees on Google maps.
In 2006, the National Park Service placed the White House’s Jackson magnolia at the top of its “Witness Tree Protection Program” list. This program was initiated to study historically and biologically important trees in the Washington area.
Unfortunately, over the years much of the tree has decayed or been damaged by high winds, and it even was hit by a small plane in 1994. The tree has been held up with a steel pole and cables, which are now compromised. Fears were the entire tree would have to be removed for safety reasons.
At this time, experts at the National Arboretum have decided to preserve but radically trim large portions of the tree in hopes of saving some of it. After reviewing those reports, First lady Melania Trump supported the cutback, noting that visitors and journalists often stand under the tree during White House events. And there is more good news.
In 2009, former first lady Michelle Obama took a seedling and gave it to the Department of Agriculture where it could grow in the agency’s garden. Melania Trump also requested that wood from the magnolia be preserved and seedlings be made available for a possible replanting in the same area.