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White House Magnolia Tree Planted by Andrew Jackson Will Be Cut Down

Despite multiple attempts to save it, the tree is in bad shape

The Magnolia tree, left, was planted on the south grounds of the White House by President Andrew Jackson in 1835. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
smithsonian.com

For nearly 200 years, a towering, leafy magnolia tree has cast its shade over the south façade of the White House. It is believed that Andrew Jackson brought the tree to the capital, planting a magnolia seedling on White House grounds as a memorial to his beloved wife. But the Jackson Magnolia, as this historic tree is known, is now in bad shape. And as Kate Bennett of CNN first reported earlier this week, specialists feel they have no choice but to cut it down.

Despite multiple attempts to save it, the Jackson Magnolia has been declining for decades. A large portion of the tree is scheduled to be removed this week. The decision was prompted by a United States National Arboretum assessment that found that the “overall architecture and structure of the tree is greatly compromised and the tree is completely dependent on the artificial support.” The support system, which consists of a steel pole and cabling, is also failing. And the magnolia is too weak to withstand further interventions, according to Sarah Kaplan of the Washington Post.

Officials are particularly concerned because visitors and members of the press often stand in front of the tree when President Donald Trump leaves the White House on Marine One. A strong gust of wind whirled up by the helicopter could send the tree’s delicate limbs toppling down.

It was ultimately First Lady Melania Trump who made the call to cut back the Jackson Magnolia. "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,” Stephanie Grisham, a spokesperson for Melania Trump told CNN’s Bennett. Trump has asked that wood from the tree be preserved.

As the story goes, the iconic magnolia came to the White House as a seedling in 1829, following Jackson’s victory in an unusually hostile election campaign. Days after Jackson won the presidential race, his wife Rachel died. She had been ill for several years, but the vitriol of the campaign—in which her morality and the validity of her marriage was questioned—is believed to have made her sicker. Jackson, certainly, blamed her death on his political opponents. When he moved into the White House, Jackson reportedly requested that a sprout from Rachel’s favorite Magnolia tree, which stood on the couple’s farm in Hermitage, Tennessee, be planted on the grounds.

Over the years, the Jackson Magnolia has become a beloved White House fixture. Between 1928 and 1998, it was featured on the back of the $20 bill. According to Kaplan, President Herbert Hoover liked to breakfast in the shade of the tree. First Lady Laura Bush commissioned a set of White House china inspired by the magnolia’ blossoms. Barack Obama gifted seedlings from the tree to both Israel and Cuba as a symbol of friendship.

Fortunately, White House groundskeepers have long been preparing for the Jackson Magnolia’s ultimate demise. According to CNN’s Bennett, healthy offshoots of the tree are being grown at “an undisclosed greenhouse-like location.” When the magnolia comes down, it will be replaced by one of its offspring, which may very well offer shade to the nation’s first families for another 200 years.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer is based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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