Historic Tree Seeds Lost To Hurricane Frances
Seeds gathered from a tulip poplar tree planted at Mount Vernon in 1785 by George Washington were among the irreplaceable seeds destroyed when tornadoes ripped through Jacksonville, in the wake of September’s Hurricane Frances.
The seeds were considered especially rare because they were gathered after the tree, too tall and too isolated to be pollinated naturally, was hand-pollinated from a bucket truck by an official from the National Arboretum.
Also lost were seeds with connections to a half-dozen American Revolution sites and with ties to Martin Luther King, Amelia Earhart, and Thomas Edison, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and as far away as Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Historic Tree Nursery, a program of the nonprofit American Forests, which gathers and grows seed connected to famous people, places, and events, sustained more than $6 million in damage to its three greenhouses in Jacksonville.
The seeds, which represented 16 years of collecting, had been stored under climate and moisture controlled conditions.
Nurseryman Jeff Meyer, who directs the Historic Tree Nursery, said he and the staff are trying to be optimistic in the face of this disaster. “My goal is that we try to rebuild,” he said. “My hope is that once again Historic Tree Nursery will provide trees and seeds to schoolkids and others across the country .”
The nursery also lost 40,000 trees that were being grown for sale. The trees, ranging in size from tiny seedlings to 20 foot tall landscape trees, have been popular with everyone from homeowners to celebrities, but especially with schools, which use Living Classrooms of trees, lesson plans, and software to help students make the connection between trees and science, history, math, and technology.
Meyer estimated that more than a million historic trees have been planted since the project’s inception in 1987. The trees have been featured in plantings with every president since Ronald Reagan, for 9-11 memorials, and at Versailles and Arlington Cemetery.
The idea for a nursery of historic trees was born after Meyer’s son picked up an acorn from Jacksonville’s historic Treaty Oak while on a family picnic. Meyer and his wife planted the seed in their backyard and the idea grew from there.
The trees have been featured in the PBS documentary Silent Witnesses; in the syndicated “Tree Stories”; and on The Late Show with David Letterman, where Meyer presented the comedian with a David Letterman Tulip Poplar, the offspring of a tree in his Broad Ripple, Indiana, hometown. The Letterman seeds were among the ones lost, Meyer said.
“The loss of these trees is devastating not only to American Forests, but to the country as a whole,” said Deborah Gangloff, executive director of American Forests. “Many of these trees were a last living connection to our nation’s past. Replacing them will be impossible in some cases; in others we hope to be able to find descendents from which we can collect seed.”
A small number of trees–including Alamo Live Oak, Andrew Jackson Magnolias, and Elvis Presley Weeping Willows–have been saved.
Meyer said his staff is trying to salvage some of the seeds, but it will be months before he knows if the attempt was successful.
Provided by the Environmental News Service.