Opinion

Our most famous tree

The historic cedar at the Taylor Avenue road end. - Courtesy of Bill McKnight
The historic cedar at the Taylor Avenue road end.
— image credit: Courtesy of Bill McKnight

For all our talk of significant trees, we islanders now have one that’s nationally designated as such.

Word came down this week that a Western red cedar at the Taylor Avenue road end – one-time site of the Eagledale ferry landing, from which the island’s Japanese Americans debarked in March, 1942, for wartime internment – has been accepted to the National Register of Historic Trees. The register is maintained by American Forests, a non-profit organization founded in 1875 to promote planting and environmental restoration. Through rigorous provenance, the group identifies and heralds trees that have been “living witnesses to the events and lives that shaped out nation.”

The Eagledale cedar – which boasts four trunks with a total diameter of 276 inches, and a spread of 54 feet – is estimated to be 100 years old. Its “witness” to the internment point of departure was verified through photographs in the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum’s collection.

The first tree in the state of Washington to be so designated, it was nominated for the registry by Bill McKnight and Steve Parsons, in cooperation with the Japanese American Community and plant pathologist Olaf Ribeiro. Fourteen months later, it’s been accepted.

For some perspective, the American Forests website (www.historictrees.org) is worth a look. Other significant specimens are tied to the birthplaces or homes of various American presidents, inventors, authors and poets, the battlefields of the Revolution and the Civil War, and such. Typical are the Montpelier Crape Myrtle (from the home of James Madison in Orange County, Va.); the Betsy Ross Sycamore (Philadelphia); the Abraham Lincoln Persimmon (Hardin County, Ky.); the Amelia Earhart Sugar Maple (Atchison, Kan.); the Frank Lloyd Wright Gingko (Oak Park, Ill.); and the Walden Woods Weeping Willow (Concord, Mass.). On the silly side, one finds not one, but four different trees associated with the storied life of Elvis Presley. (If presidents, why not “the King”?)

Interestingly, American Forests’ mandate goes beyond preservation to propagation. The organization maintains a “historic tree nursery” in Florida; cones and seeds from each specimen are available for purchase to spread trees’ “offspring” to yards, gardens and byways across the country.

Organizers say the Eagledale cedar will be featured in a new “National Register of Historic Trees” volume, to be published under the Crown imprint sometime next year. That will be followed by the first sanctioned harvest of seeds from the tree; shortly, arborists and those with ties to the internment can raise an offshoot of that history in their own yards.

Put us on the list. It’s offers a novel perspective on our Bainbridge Island heritage, a good way to remember.

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