British Columbia is known for its many and varied natural splendors, not the least of which are old-growth forests. The groves on Vancouver Island, for example, are not to be missed. As impressive as they are, this site focuses on other trees, those planted by the men and women who came to British Columbia after the mid-1800s. As it turns out, the province has plenty of historic trees. Here are a few of the many worth knowing.
Age: 94 - 97 years
John Davidson, BC's first Provincial Botanist, and his assistants, head gardener Jack Renton and nurseryman I. Van der Bom, planted these trees between 1913 - 1916. At the time, Riverview was the first botanical garden in western Canada. The trees were among the garden's early accessions, which included more than 700 British Columbia native plant species and selected exotics from around the world. In 1925, Davidson became a botany professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. It was apparently a package deal. Davidson and the plants moved together, or rather, most of the plants. By then, the trees were too big to move, and they stayed behind, growing majestic as the years passed.
Today, the collection has some 1,500 trees, including grand (and sometimes unusual) shade trees and conifers. They are arranged on 244 acres of land, allowing each enough room to send thick limbs up or out, as its character dictates. Two self-guided tours (brochures are usually available on site) introduce visitors to this arboretum.
The Riverview Horticultural Centre Society is currently working to save this arboretum from development pressures. They offer tree tours, books and brochures, and other information.
The Riverside Arboretum is located in Coquitlam at 500 Lougheed Highway, on the grounds of the Riverview Hospital.
- The Riverview Horticultural Centre Society. Self Guided Tours of the Riverview Trees, n.d.
- Val Adolph and Brenda Guild Gillespie, eds., The Riverview Lands: Western Canada's First Botanical Garden, Port Moody, B.C. : Riverview Horticultural Centre Society in conjunction with Environmental Partners Fund, Environment Canada, c1994.
Father Pandosy Apple
Father Pandosy, an Oblate priest, planted the ancestor of this fruit tree in 1863 at the first permanent white settlement in the BC Okanagans.
Pandosy arrived in the Oregon Country in 1847, and served at missions in the Yakima area for the next 10 years. When his order moved north to BC, his superiors assigned him to Lake Okanagan. He founded the mission there in 1859-60, and planted an orchard of seedling fruit trees in 1863. As is always the case with seedlings, he had no idea what kind of apples the trees would eventually bear. This time, they turned out reasonably well. Pomologist Dr. D. V. Fisher, who was instrumental is preserving Pandosy's tree, reports that the apples are large and green-skinned. They mature late in the season, and are good keepers. As far as quality, he gives them a "fair," which makes them far better than the vast majority of seedling fruit.
Many of the original trees lived for decades, but the notorious freeze of 1955 took out the last one. Fortunately, Dr. Fisher had already started a young tree from a scion off the old, and it survived. Decades later, they grafted another young tree, so the original variety still survives on the property.
The Father Pandosy Mission is located at 3685 Benvoulin Drive in Kelowna.
- D. V. Fisher, History of Fruit Growing in the BC Interior, Kelowna, BC: Living Landscapes, 1996.
Age: to 83 years
Delegates to a conference of the Union of B.C. Municipalities planted these trees in 1927. The collection includes oaks, maples, Douglas-fir, copper beech, lindens, ash, hawthorns, and other ornamentals. A sign nearby identifies each tree and the individual who planted it.
Used for recreation since 1850, Beacon Hill is one of the region's oldest parks. Back then, it was a just an open meadow where locals played cricket and went for strolls. It remained informal open space until the late 1880s, when Victoria set about building a proper park. They commissioned landscape gardener John Blair to create a design, and the first plantings went in 1889. It would take Victoria 40 years to finish its park, working in phases as funding became available. The Mayor's Grove is a later addition. Most of the trees went in in 1927. Over the years, other visiting dignitaries have added trees to the grove. Winston Churchill planted a tree here in 1929. Two years later, the King Prajadhipok of Siam added another one.
The Mayor's Grove is at the north end of the park, approximately across the soccer field from Pendergast Street.
- G. H. Chaster, D. W. Ross, and W. H. Warren, Trees of Greater Victoria, Victoria: Heritage Tree Book Society, 1988.
When Europeans first sailed up the coast of Oregon, they brought with them seeds of fruits and vegetables. Those who came later would bring more plants, starting with more useful plants and a few sentimental favorites from their gardens "back home." Later, they added countless ornamentals which they got from a variety of sources. Some, such as ships' captains, brought back trees from their travels around the world. Others, including Oregon Trail emigrants, got plants from local nurseries or ordered them from nurseries back East. Many got seeds and slips from family and friends. Today, many trees planted by emigrants and pioneers have survived. Here is a sampling:
Flavel Redwood, Port Orford Cedar
Age: to 128 years
In about 1882, Captain George Flavel (1823 - 1893) started planning his dream home, a lavish 7,300 square foot Victorian mansion. He went about the landscaping a little differently than builders do today. He planted trees first and then built the house. Obviously, construction was less disruptive then than it is today, since the trees survived. Today, the largest tree on the grounds is a sequoia redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum, from the Sierra Nevada range in California. Although nobody knows exactly when it was planted, it may be about 128 years old, since it appears to date from the original Flavel plantings.
The property also has another historic tree, a Port Orford Cedar, Chamaecyparis Lawsoniana. Local sources say a Capt. Wass brought it to Astoria from Coos Bay on the southern Oregon coast on his tug in 1872. The Port Orford Cedar, which is also known as the White Cedar, is native to that area, and this tree may be one of the early Oregon uses of that species as an ornamental. The Flavel House cedar is undoubtedly old. It was already a tall specimen tree in photographs from c.1900. It stands near the front of the house.
The Captain George Flavel House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a museum. It is located at 441 Eight Street, Astoria.
- "The Historic Flavel House," Cumtux 11, no. 3, Summer 1991.
When Oregon Trail emigrant William Barlow arrived in Oregon, he was hungry for walnuts like the ones he had known back home. When he went looking for some, he got two pieces of bad news. Nobody had any walnuts to sell and worse yet, nobody was going to have walnuts for years. The trees were not native to the region, and growers had not yet thought of planting them. Still, Barlow wanted walnuts, and was willing to do what was necessary to get them. He asked a friend to ship him a bushel of black and white walnuts, Juglans nigra and J. cinera, respectively.
The nuts arrived in Oregon City in the fall of 1858, accompanied by a whopping freight charge of $65. Although it doesn't seem like much now, it was a month's pay for many men at the time. Since the nuts were so expensive, Barlow and his wife, Martha, allowed themselves to taste just one nut apiece, and planted the remainder. The following spring, 760 trees sprouted. That fall, he set out about 100 trees and gave some to friends. He sold the others, making about $500 on his original investment.
In 1901, Barlow reported that the trees had grown enormous. One of them had a trunk more than three feet in diameter, with a crown that spread 80 feet. Today, many of the trees still survive. They form a grand alley lining the front drive at the historic Barlow House.
- William Barlow, “Reminiscences of Seventy Years,” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 13, no. 3, Sept. 1912.
Mary Foster Lilac
Mary Charlotte Foster brought this, the oldest lilac in the Pacific Northwest, from her home in Calais, Maine and planted it in her front yard sometime in the late 1840s. Mrs. Foster came to Oregon in 1843, traveling around the Cape Horn by ship with her husband, Philip Foster. They lived in Oregon City for a time, and it is likely that Mrs. Foster first planted her lilac there. In 1847, they bought a 640-acre land claim at Eagle Creek, and when the Fosters moved to their new home, Mrs. Foster took her lilac with her.
Today, the lilac has grown into a thicket made of what appears to be hundreds of offshoots. Bloom time in May is a spectacular display of fragrant, purple spires. Thirty years ago, when it was growing on its own, it measured 35 feet high and more than 40 feet wide. Today, it is still humongous. Although it has not been identified down to botanical variety, it may well turn out to be Syringa vulgaris, a plant known for its heady fragrance. It predates most of the "old-fashioned" lilacs, most of which are French hybrids introduced after 1880.
The Philip Foster Farm, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a living-history museum. It is located at 29912 SE Highway 211 about 20 miles east of Portland. The museum sometimes offers young lilac plants, propagated from the original Foster lilac, through its museum store.
- Ralph Friedman Oregon For the Curious, Caldwell, ID: The Caxton Printers, 1973.
- Philip Foster Farm
In 1860, one of Eugene's early settlers planted an orchard not far from the Willamette River. Today, one of the cherries in that old orchard has survived, and grown immense with age. Today, experts recognize it as the biggest cherry in Oregon, and some suggest that it is also the biggest cherry in the U.S. In honor of its size and history, the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee has officially designated it a Heritage Tree.
Most sources identify it as 'Black Tartarian' cherry, a tree with purplish-black cherries that while not large, are exceptionally good. Noted fruit expert U. P. Hedrick called them "a delight to the palate." He judged them "very good to best," a rarified rating few other cherries ever received. The tree had some genetic strengths that has helped it survive so long. 'Black Tartarian' cherries adapt well to a variety of sites, they are vigorous and often grow large, and they have some built-in resistance to a fungus disease called brown-rot that ravages many cherries. TLC by park staffers also helps keep this tree going strong.
Today, the cherry is in vibrant good health. The trunk is very thick, and the wide-spreading branches bear a full canopy of leaves. The tree is particularly nice at bloom time in April. Visit if you can, or check it out on the park's webcam. Access both through the City of Eugene home page, then use the "Site Search" function to navigate (their web design does not allow direct links). On the webcam, the Cherry is the large tree in the distance in the middle of the oval lawn.
The tree lives in Owen's Rose Garden, which is south of the Willamette River and west of I-105 at the north end of Jefferson Street in Eugene.
- Oregon Travel Information Council, Guide to Oregon Historical Markers and Heritage Trees, Salem, 1999.
Corbett area community activists rallied to save this native Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana, in 1997.
Although this tree is neither the biggest* nor the oldest white oak in Portland, it does have its loyal fans. When the tree was threatened by development in the mid-1990s, they rescued it from almost certain destruction. Today, the land on which it took root more than 150 years ago is one of the region's smallest parks. It measures less than a tenth of an acre, and the tree takes it all. There is plenty of life left in this tree. It already measures about 73 feet tall, and white oaks can get twice that big. Nobody knows how big it will eventually be or how long it will live, but now it has a chance to grow as nature intended.
The oak is located at Heritage Tree Park, at S.W. Corbett & Lane.
Age: to 170 years
The mission rose arrived in Oregon by 1840 and was immensely popular with the Oregon Trail emigrants. It was easy to propagate, and women passed along slips to newcomers so that they, too, could have a rose in their dooryard. Because the plants were healthy and long-lasting, there were plenty of mission roses still alive well into the 1920s and 1930s, according to newspaper articles from that era. Although it is not clear whether any of the original plants survive, the mission rose lives on. Salem and environs has three plants that are said to be direct descendents of those early-day mission roses.
Although the mission rose appears over and over in historical documents, the early history of this rose is far from clear. There are two major versions of this story, and each of them has alternative tellings. In one, it was the Hudson's Bay Company that introduced this rose, bringing it either from a mission in California or from England. In the other, it was the Methodist missionaries who brought the rose with them around the Horn. In both versions, the rose was much beloved by Oregon Trail women. So which of these stories is correct? Nobody knows. It could be one or the other or a little of both.
No matter how it got to Oregon, the mission rose was and still is an icon. Visitors can see it in three Salem-area locations. One grows on the grounds of Mission Mill Museum, 1314 Mill Street SE in Salem. Another grows in the rose garden at Bush's Pasture Park, 890 Mission St SE. The third is at the Jason Lee Willamette Mission Monument at Willamette Mission State Park north of Salem. A map on the park website shows the location of the monument. Each of these roses is an autumn damask, a lovely old shrub rose with fragrant, soft pink flowers.
Note: There may be other mission roses elsewhere, perhaps some that are a different kind of rose altogether. Early records suggest that the Hudson's Bay Company had a red rose and at one time, researchers thought that both the Sweetbrier, R. eglanteria, and the a wild rose from California, R. californica, were the mission rose. If you have any information about the mission rose, please send me an email at the address at the bottom of this page.
- Anna Hegstrom, "How the Rose Came to Oregon: A Saga of Pioneer Period," The Sunday Oregonian, 26 May 1946, Magazine Section.
- Lewis Judson, “The Romance of the Oregon Mission Rose,” Marion County History, vol. 11 (1972-76), p. 45.
- Sarah Hunt Steeves, “Mission Rose of Oregon Traced to Sunny Spain,” The Morning Oregonian, June 3, 1931.
Historic Fruit Trees
Age: 46 - 162
The Pioneer Orchard is a large collection of the apples, pears, cherries, plums, and other fruit that early farmers and gardeners grew in the old Oregon country. Researchers documented each of these trees carefully. They found some living trees growing at old homesteads. They identified other varieties from information in period sources such as diaries, letters, newspaper articles and ads, and old nursery records.
Today, the orchard contains a enormous collection of heirloom fruit. There are, for example, more than 115 different apples and sizeable collections of other kinds of fruit. Some are direct descendents of pioneer trees, started with scions taken from the old trees. Other trees came from heirloom fruit collectors and specialty nurseries. Although these second-generation trees are not originals, they are exactly like the originals because the genetic material is the same.
Sauvie Island is located on the Columbia River west of Portland. Follow Highway 30 to NW Sauvie Island Road, cross the bridge, and drive about a mile north to Howell Park Road. Turn right and proceed to the park.
- Information on site.
The oldest introduced tree in the Pacific Northwest (and some claim the West) is the Old Apple Treee in Vancouver, Washington. Thought to have been planted by fur traders, it is more than 175 years old. Washington has plenty of other century-old trees. Some were started by pioneers and founders. Others were planted by landscape gardeners and early nurserymen. Still others were started by early Washingtonians with a passion for trees. In addition, the state also has some native trees that had (and still have) historic significance. Here are a few worth knowning:
The Pioneer Fir is an enormous native Douglas fir, Psuedotsuga menzeisii, that once sheltered nineteenth-century travellers in transit between Portland and Olympia and other points north. It stood north of Claquato, a town founded in 1852. Although it has since faded to obscurity, Claquato was once a bustling community with general stores, hotels, a blacksmithy, stables, and other businesses. Not everyone who came through town could afford the price of a hotel, and the Pioneer Fir offered rustic accommodations for those traveling by covered wagon, on horseback, or by foot. The tree was close enough to town to offer a degree of safety and big enough to keep off winter rain and summer sun. The emigrants had spent many nights in places that were much worse.
When travellers camped under it 150 years ago, the Pioneer Tree was already ancient. It and a couple nearby trees are old-growth, and such trees are typically centuries old. Instead of the classic Christmas-tree shape with a thick trunk topped by a cone of foliage, this Doug fir is an octopus tree. It branches just a few feet above the ground and has four massive branches, each one the size of an average tree. These thick branches reach out and then up to form a wide-spreading canopy that is easily two or three times the size of typical Douglas fir. It measures more than 100 feet wide and offers plenty of room for several prairie schooners to set up camp under its sheltering branches.
Octopus trees, named because their branches spread like octopus arms, are not common. They grow this way because they lost part, but not all, of their crowns when they were young. Not all trees survive such damage, which can be caused by winter storms. Those that do usually have a branch just below the break that gradually starts growing straight up, and eventually becomes the tree's leader. Octopus trees take a different approach. Instead of one branch going vertical, three or four or five do. None become dominant, and they all grow into huge branches. Such trees can survive for centuries, and grow enormous, as has this particular tree.
The Pioneer Fir is located at the Claquato Cemetery. From Centralia, take Highway 6 west about two miles and turn right on Chilvers Road and then almost immediately left on Stearns Road. Follow Stearns up the hill and beyond the first cemetery entrance (red brick). Continue past Water Street to the Memorial Gate (gray stone). Turn right. At the first fork, take the right and drive about halfway around the circle to the north side. The Pioneer Fir is located on the left, opposite a fork in the road. A plaque marks the tree. It reads, "Claquato Pioneer Fir, A Shelter for First Settlers, Dedicated 1937 as a Memorial to Their Fortitude." The Pioneer Fir is the biggest tree in the cemetery, and is visible from just inside the gate.
- Lewis County Historical Society, Historic Claquato Church, n.d.
Molson Museum Lilac
Age: 110 years
The Old Molson lilac is an enormous thicket with dozens of stems that grew as offshoots from a slip probably planted during Molson's heyday in 1900. Lilacs were popular at the time, especially in North Central Washington where they were one of few ornamentals that could survive the winters there, where temperatures to -30° F. This particular lilac's story is lost in the mists of time, but it is big enough to be a century old. Today, it grows behind a pioneer cabin. The pairing is not original. The cabin, although old, was moved to the museum grounds to save it. Still, log cabins and lilacs originally went together. This one, located in the backyard, remembers one old use -- to screen the outhouse. Others were used as front yard ornamentals or in cemeteries to decorate graves.
Today, the lilac is one of the few survivors of Old Molson. A mining boom town started in 1900, Molson grew at warp speed into thriving town (population 700) with a fancy hotel, three saloons, assorted businesses, and other amenities. The boom was a one-year wonder. By 1901, Molson had a population of 13. Down, but not out, the town next pinned its hopes on the coming of the train. That fizzled, too, when the railroad selected a different site a half mile north of town. It was the last straw. Locals built a whole new town to take advantage of the rail-head, and left old Molson to molder away. They also left the lilac behind, unintentionally ensuring its survival. The lilac had plenty of room to grow, enough rain to survive, and nobody to cut it down, dig it up, or pave it over. Today, it is one of the biggest lilacs in the region.
The Molson Museum is located in North Central Washington east of Oroville on the main road through Molson. Since there are just a few buildings in the town, the museum is easy to find.
- Signs on property.
Age: 147 years
Jacob D. Fowler, Mukilteo's first homesteader, merchant, postmaster, and orchardist, planted this pear tree in his orchard in 1863. Today, it is the only trace of that old orchard, and may be the oldest pear in Washington. The tree, thought to be a 'Seckel,' was going strong through the summer of 1995 when it stood about 35 feet tall and the crown spread nearly 45 feet. That winter, a wind storm blew the crown down. The tree resprouted, and now has several new branches. Unfortunately, when the trunk broke, it revealed serious signs of decay. Just how much longer it can hang on is unclear. Mukilteo officials are trying to propagate the tree, so that if the old-timer does not make it, they can replace it with a young tree started from the old.
The Fowler Pear, which is a state registered historic landmark, grows in a park just big enough for the tree and a bench right next to the railroad tracks in downtown Mukilteo. Look for it in Barbara Brennan Dobro Park, below Second Street on Mukilteo Lane north of Park Avenue.
- Sign and plaque at tree.
Ted's Madrona Tree
Age: 400+ years
Although most historic trees are introduced exotics, a few native trees also earn a slot in the history books. This madrona makes the list because it was, and still is, beloved. Many people helped save this tree. Local arborist James Causton started a crusade to save it. He got motivated after construction on the lot next door made him realize that this tree might be cut down someday. Long-time Port Angeles resident Virginia Serr came to the tree's rescue. She bought the lot on which it grows as a tribute to late husband, Ted, who had admired the tree for years. City officials pitched in, too. They routed a sidewalk around the tree to give it room to grow.
Today, the madrona is known as Ted's Tree, and it is a testimonial to good health. It has a full, leafy canopy that forms a perfect half-dome held aloft by many thick, upreaching branches. Experts think it is more than 400 years old. In 1996, the madrona stood 85 feet tall and the leafy crown spread 95 feet. The trunk measured more than 21 feet in circumference. Only one other Washington madrona, a tree in Tacoma, is larger overall, according to big-tree expert Robert Van Pelt.
The tree is located in Port Angeles at 231 West Eighth Street, between South Oak and South Cherry Streets.
- Lynda V. Mapes, "Huge madrona perfumes centuries of springtimes," The Seattle Times, May 19, 2003.
- Robert Van Pelt, Champion Trees of Washington State, Seattle: Washington State Big Tree Program in association with University of Washington Press, 1996.
Age: 149+ years
Oregon Trail emigrant John Carson planted this Spanish chestnut, Castanea sativa, on his donation land claim sometime before 1861. It is the last surviving remnant of Carson's fruit orchard, and it is likely that he planted it for its traditional "roasting on an open fire" chestnuts. Local historians think he probably brought the tree west as a mere sapling tucked into a corner of his covered wagon.
In 1972, the tree narrowly escaped becoming cordwood when the Department of Transportation was building a new freeway on-ramp. Locals rallied support for the tree, and the DOT rerouted the road to save it.
Today, the tree still has a broad, spreading crown and a healthy canopy of leaves. The trunk has grown thick with age. An old pruning scar remains from where workers removed either a bad branch or a split crown that threatened the tree. Other than that, it remains a hale and hearty Oregon Trail emigrant.
The Carson Chestnut is located just off Meridian Street north of the Puyallup River bridge between the Highway 167 on-ramp and off-ramp. There is no pedestrian access, but the tree is clearly visible from the road.
- "Puyallup Builds Around Old Chestnut Tree," Pierce County Herald, Puyallup Centennial Story, 1990: p. 28.
Age: 148 years
Eliza Jane Meeker planted this Baltic Ivy, Hedera helix, along side her log cabin in 1862 or 1864, depending on the source. Today, it may be the largest vine in the Pacific Northwest. It has two enormous, woody trunks that measure about six feet in circumference where they twine and twist together at about three feet above the ground. High overhead, the canopy measures at least 16 by 22 feet, and the branches are gnarled and woody. It takes a massive, concrete arbor to hold the whole thing up. And that's after appropriate pruning. One wonders just how big this vine would have grown on its own!
The Meeker Ivy is located in downtown Puyallup in Pioneer Park, on South Meridian Street between Elm Place and 4th Ave. SW.
- Plaque on property next to vine.
Age: 101 years
Early Seattle nurseryman Julius Bonnell imported this Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum var. dissectum, for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, a world's fair held in Seattle in 1909. After the expo, Bonnell moved the maple back to his nursery. In 1964, his son, Frank, donated the tree to the Museum of History and Industry in honor of his father.
Only a few other original A-Y-P-E trees have been identified. They are located on the old expo grounds, now the University of Washington campus. While odds are good that additional trees were salvaged from the fair, this is the only one that has been identified to date.
The tree grows on the grounds of the Museum of History & Industry, 2700 - 24th Avenue in Seattle's Montlake neighborhood. The tree is part of a mixed planting of ornamentals, located between the lower parking lot and the main entrance. A plaque next to the walkway identifies the tree.
- Plaque next to tree.
Age: 158 years
Louisa Boren Denny, one of Seattle's founding mothers, planted a sweetbrier rose, Rosa eglanteria, on Elliott Bay in 1852 or 1853. Today, a plant said to be a direct descendent of that rose survives at the Woodland Park Rose Garden.
The story of this rose has been well-documented. Mrs. Denny came west on the Oregon Trail, bringing some rose seeds had collected from a friend's garden. She planted the seeds at her log cabin, and since the plant spreads easily, even invasively, the sweetbrier was soon well established. Over the years, Mrs. Denny moved several times. Each time, she took her rose with her. The original plant lived for decades.
Today, a Denny rose grows in the Woodland Park Rose Garden. Park department gardeners moved it there just a few years back. Their source was a very old plant located at the park department nursery and greenhouse complex in south Seattle. That plant is said to have been started from a cutting taken from the original Denny rose. Although historians might hope for additional evidence to support the oral tradition, documents regarding the rose's provenance have not yet been found.
The Woodland Park Rose Garden is located next to the Zoo at N. 50th Street and Fremont Avenue North. Use the entrance to the garden at the northeast end of the parking lot. The Denny Rose lives in a bed (number 48 on the garden map, which is usually available on site) at the north end of the garden. From the entrance, walk halfway across the garden, and turn north. Continue to the semi-circle right in front of the bas-relief fountain. A narrow gravel walk leads right up to the fountain and around both sides to roses, but that is not the path you want. Instead, follow the main gravel walk west a few paces, then look in the bed on the north. You will see a narrow stripe of lawn, then a bed of mixed flowers at ground level. Above it, a low rock wall, may 18 to 24 inches high, serves as a retaining wall. The bed right above the retaining wall has mixed shrubs, roses, and ferns. Look in that bed for very thorny canes and leaves that have about seven leaflets. The rose is close to the front of the bed, close enough to touch. There are other roses in the area, but none have the very thorny canes of the Sweetbrier. There is no tag or label.
- Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West, The Story of Seattle, Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1931.
Washington Elm, Meany Redwood, WWI Sycamores
Age: to 108 years
Edmond S. Meany, a distinguished history professor and campus visionary, planted the first two of the campus trees profiled here in 1902 and 1906, respectively. The third is a memorial grove campus officials planted in 1920.
The oldest of these trees is a Washington Elm. It grew from a scion taken off the tree under which General George Washington took command of the Continental Army in 1775 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1902, Meany and campus dignitaries installed their Washington elm 2.0 on the UW campus. When the original Washington elm in Cambridge died in 1923, officials there contacted the UW to see if they could spare a cutting. Campus gardeners propagated the Seattle tree, and the UW sent Cambridge a sapling-sized Washington elm 3.0. They also started a few back-up trees, and planted one of these 3.0 trees across campus at Bagley Hall. All went well for about 30 years, then in 1961, the UW's original tree was hit by lighting. When it died, campus officials moved the 3.0 tree from Bagley Hall back across campus to replace it. Today, historians think the original story linking George Washington to the Cambridge tree may be nothing more than charming legend. Even so, it takes nothing from all the hard work and good intentions of the many people involved in saving this tree. The Washington Elm is located between Clark Hall and Communications, and a plaque identifies it.
Four years after Meany planted the Washington elm, he added a Sierra Redwood, Sequoiadendron giganteum, to the campus tree collection. He grew this particular tree from seed he had planted at his home a few years earlier. At the time, Meany hoped the campus could double as an arboretum, and he was involved in both administrative and dirt-under-the fingernails work such as tree-planting to make it so. Over the years, Meany's redwood has grown into handsome tree more than 90 feet tall. It stands just southeast of Smith Hall, the building that houses the history department where Meany taught.
A third group of historic trees on campus is a memorial to 57 men and one woman from the University killed during World War I. To honor them, campus officials planted 58 sycamores, Platanus x acerifolia, along the north entrance to campus on Armistice Day in 1920. Eleven more sycamores went in by 1925, completing one element of the original Olmsted plan for the campus. Today, these trees have grown into big, round-headed shade trees with thick trunks and high-arching branches. They are located on either side of Memorial Way, south of the campus entrance from NE 45 Street and 17th Ave. NE.
- "The Trees Among Us" The [University of Washington] Daily, February 20, 2001, page 6.
Age: to 118 years
While many of the region's historic plants that can be traced to a single individual, the Wright Park trees are a testimonial to collaboration. Early on, three people were particularly important. Philanthropist Charles B. Wright got things going when he donated 27 acres to the city for the park in 1886. Landscape gardener E. O. Schwagerl created a design that transformed the logged-over site into a gracious urban park. Gardener Eben R. Roberts worked literally from sunrise to sunset to plant more than 1,200 trees. In addition to these three, countless others put their time, energy, money, and hearts into this park.
Today, Wright Park has more than 1,000 trees and the collection represents at last 100 species, according to local sources. Together, they may well be Washington's finest collection of mature shade trees. The Washington Big Tree Program says twenty-three of them hold state records for size, including seven trees that are the largest of their species in the state. Many others are impressively large trees, with thick trunks holding broad-reaching canopies high overhead. The park also has some younger trees, planted over the years to insure that Wright Park will always have a fine collection of mature trees.
Wright Park is located a few blocks north and west of Tacoma Central Business District between Division and 6th Ave at Yakima Ave.
- Herbert Hunt, Tacoma, Its History and Its Builders, A Half Century of Progress, Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916.
- Robert Van Pelt, Champion Trees of Washington State, Seattle: Washington State Big Tree Program in association with University of Washington Press, 1996.
Old Apple Tree
Age: ± 184 years
The most popular version of the history of this tree says Dr. John McLoughlin planted it in about 1826. McLoughlin was Chief Factor at Fort Vancouver, headquarters of the Columbia Department of the vast Hudson's Bay Company. At the time, there were no apple trees in the region, nor any seeds from which to grow one. All that changed with Æmilius Simpson, a naval officer, arrived from England with some apple seeds. A young woman whose name has been lost had collected seeds from apples served at a send-off dinner for Simpson, and asked him to take them to Fort Vancouver. When he presented the seeds to McLoughlin, the Chief Factor planted the seeds, and tended the young trees carefully. Seven or so years later, the trees bloomed and that fall, McLoughlin picked the first apple in the Pacific Northwest.
Many other versions of this story survive. Sometimes the details are minor. For example, different versions say McLoughlin plants the trees in 1825, 1826, or 1827. Other times, the differences are substantial. One telling, for example, replaces Simpson with Sir Arthur Drake. Today, some historians even doubt the entire HBC connection, arguing that the somebody else (identity unknown) planted the tree.
Even if the experts do not argue on the facts, they all agree that this particular tree is old. In fact, it was already old nearly a century ago. An account in 1905 described it and another of McLoughlin's trees as "hoary chroniclers of time". But by 1912, only one tree survived, and it was in poor condition. In 1919, the Western Washington Horticulture Association stepped in to care for the tree. By the tree's 100th birthday, it was healthy, and it continued to do well for decades. In the late 1990s, a severe ice storm broke a main branch, revealing decay through much of the tree. For now, the tree hangs on, though for how much longer is uncertain. Even though this tree will inevitably fail, its history will live on. Workers propagated the tree, and a young sapling, genetically identical to the old tree, now grows near the original.
The Old Apple Tree is a seedling, known variously as the 'Simpson' or the 'Old Fort Vancouver' apple. The fruit is rather small and greenish. Although nobody today would consider this apple outstanding, to McLoughlin and the others at Fort Vancouver, some of whom had not tasted a fresh apple in nearly a decade, it surely must have been a delicacy.
The Old Apple Tree, seen here in a park department photo, is located just north of the Columbia River on SE Columbia Way a couple long blocks east of Highway I-5 in Old Apple Tree Park.
- Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft. vol. 28, History of the Northwest Coast, 1800-1846, San Francisco: A. L. Bancroft & Co., 1884, p. 441.
Pioneer Park Trees
Age: ± 102 years
The Pioneer Park trees date from about 1907-08, when Walla Walla officials were creating this 40-acre park. They had acquired the land around the turn of the twentieth century. Before then, the site had been, at various times, a farm, a racetrack, a fairgrounds, and a reservoir. Whether or not any of the trees dates from these earlier incarnations is not clear. What is clear is that Walla Walla park builders set out to create a cool, shady oasis. They planted more than 5,000 trees and shrubs, including a particularly fine collection of large-crowned deciduous shade trees.
Today, the Pioneer Park tree collection is a treasure. Only one park in the state, Wright Park in Tacoma, has more state champion trees, but Pioneer Park has its own share of bragging rights. Eleven of the Walla Walla park's trees are the biggest of their kind in the state, according to the Washington State Big Tree Program. Eight others hold second or third place titles. Nearly a dozen of them stand more than 100 feet tall. Twelve of them have crowns that spread more than 75 feet. At least ten have trunks that measure more than ten feet in circumference. There is, of course, more to these trees than just stats; there is also beauty. The Pioneer Park trees, with plenty of room to grow and excellent care, have matured into healthy, robust specimens. Each is a testimonial to just how grand a tree can be.
Pioneer Park is located east of downtown at S. Division and E. Alder Streets.
- Robert Van Pelt, Champion Trees of Washington State, Seattle: Washington State Big Tree Program in association with University of Washington Press, 1996.
Several communities in the Pacific Northwest are identifying and preserving heritage trees, a term that includes exceptionally large trees and rare trees, as well as historic trees. They include:
- City of Albany Heritage Trees
- Heritage Trees of Portland
- Oregon Travel Information Council, Heritage Trees
- Salem's Heritage Trees
While many of the region's historic plants have yet to be studied, researchers have done an admirable job of identifying champion-sized trees in Oregon and Washington. They found fabulously big forest monarchs that have stood for centuries. In Washington, Robert Van Pelt has documented both the biggest native forest trees and introduced species, and written three splendid books about them. His work, which also includes other West Coast trees, is available at Forest Giants. The champion trees in Oregon, similarly including both native and landscape trees, is available through the Oregon Register of Big Trees.
Although these researchers were looking for big trees, they undoubtedly also found some very old ones, too. For now, the story behind most of the big landscape trees awaits telling. Too often, nobody knows who planted them, or when, or why. The same is true of countless other old landscape plants. Though it will take some work, it is still possible to uncover the story of some old plants. It is an important task. Some trees have already been recognized as significant historical artifacts. It is time that others be recognized and valued. They are living history, and irreplaceable links to the past.