Silent Sentinels



As the presidential election season reaches its end, the Natural Resources Commission would like to remind readers of the relationship shared between our nation's highest office and one of our nation's greatest resources, trees.

Our first president, George Washington, and his early childhood encounter with a cherry tree is a legend that lives strong even 275 years after the fact. A lesser known story of the connection shared between Andrew Jackson, a grieving husband, and the way he chose to honor his late wife is equally inspirational.

In 1829, the seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, planted two magnolia sprouts from his Nashville home, the Hermitage, at the White House. The trees were planted in memory of his wife, Rachel, who had died the previous month. Over the years, these magnolia trees have grown to have a unique history all their own. After serving as a favorite place of peace and shade for Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Jacqueline Kennedy, in 1988 President Ronald Reagan presented his outgoing chief of staff, Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr, with a cutting from one of the magnolias which Baker planted at his Huntsville, Tennessee home. In 1994, one of the trees served as a natural defense when a small plane veered into the South Lawn and crashed into one of the magnolias whose placement protected the White House itself from imminent damage. In 1996, a cutting from one of the magnolias was presented to Senator Lamar Alexander whose wife, Honey, tenderly cared for the sprout and helped it grow to be over 30 feet tall. The magnolia trees planted by President Jackson, in honor of his recently deceased wife, are such an enduring presence that they have been depicted on former versions of the 20 dollar bill.

Jackson was nicknamed "Old Hickory" because of his toughness and aggressive personality, but it is the "Old Magnolias" that endure today as his lasting gift to multiple generations.

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