Fallen centuries-old 'mother' oak lives on through saplings at Arlington
April 27, 2012
By J.D. Leipold
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 27, 2012) -- On a brilliant, windy spring day, the last of five post oak saplings was planted at Arlington National Cemetery, Va., to celebrate Arbor Day and honor the fallen 220-year old giant oak from whose acorns the saplings descended.
The "mother" of the young trees had stood near the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame presidential memorial and grave site but was felled by Hurricane Irene's pounding rain and wind last August. American Forests, a non-profit conservation organization that had collected acorns from the massive oak several years prior donated the quintuplets.
Arlington National Cemetery historian Tom Sherlock told the audience of visitors who had gathered around the ceremony that the architect chose the site of the JFK memorial in part because of the spectacular vista of which the great oak was a prominent feature. Sherlock said the tree became so vital to the memorial's design that an elaborate aeration and drainage system was built to protect the living landmark from the construction shock.
Planted in the same area as the mighty "Grand Arlington Oak," the last sapling was adorned with a yellow ribbon tied into a bow by keynote speaker Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. She said the ribbon served as a reminder of the men and women serving overseas in harm's way.
"This is very hallowed ground," Hammack said. "On this ground we have the opportunity to re-establish a lost natural landmark with its very own offspring. We can do this because Arlington National Cemetery and the American Forests had foresight. They collected acorns from that landmark oak located next to President Kennedy's grave site to prepare for an inevitable future.
"President Kennedy had foresight when he observed 50 years ago that our natural conservation effort must include the complete spectrum of resources… air, water, land, fuels, energy and minerals," she continued. "This resonates today as the Army recognizes the interconnection of natural resource and energy conservation by its focus on sustainability."
Scott Steen, CEO of American Forests, said his organization planted more than 4 million trees last year, but none were as special as Arlington's new oak saplings.
"Oak trees have historically been symbols of strength and wisdom and they take time to grow and mature," he said. "The great post oak that stood on this spot for 220 years witnessed the burning of Washington in the War of 1812; it stood tall through the Civil War, and became a key part of the grave site of a beloved president.
"During the next five decades or so, these trees we plant today may grow to 80 feet or more and two feet wide," Steen said. "If we're lucky, in about a quarter of a century they'll start to bear their own acorns. Trees take time and because of that, we plant not only for ourselves today, but for generations to come."
With more than 8,000 trees representing more than 300 species, Arlington National Cemetery's 624 acres is also home to three state champion trees, the largest of their species in Virginia, a yellowwood, empress and pin oak.