Famous and ancient trees live on in seeds for sale


The tree is the most profound sight at the Alamo.

Anyone who has been to Texas' most famous historical attraction in the last half of this century knows immediately which tree: the enormous, undulating live oak that dominates the courtyard.

The Alamo tree is for sale; so are offspring of the Civil War battlefields -- Pickett's Charge Black Walnut from Gettysburg, and the Antietam Sycamore. Cuttings and seedlings from many of America's most famous trees are being sold by American Forests, the oldest nonprofit conservation organization in the United States, through its Historic & Famous Trees program.

Look on the back of a $20 bill (not the new, big-headed Andy version, but the old one, still in circulation) and to the left of the White House, you'll see a large magnolia. President Andrew Jackson brought it from the Hermitage, his Tennessee home, in 1829 in memory of his wife, Rachel. It is the oldest tree on the White House lawn, and it, too, has been propagated.

"We identify trees that are significant to our history," says Jeff Meyer, the project's organizer. For more than 100 years, the organization has cataloged the trees; several years ago, the growing program was instituted. And now, people can grow a part of American history.

There are apple trees that are believed to have been planted by John Chapman, the arboreal enthusiast better known as Johnny Appleseed.

There are descendants of Sam Houston's kissing tree. "It's quite significant to Texas history," Meyer says. "In 1857, several people in San Marcos were at the train station waiting for the arrival of Sam Houston, who was running for governor. Mary Elizabeth Davis had made a flag to present to Houston, and upon receiving it, he kissed her. The old oak has become known as the Sam Houston kissing bur oak. It has seeds as big as baseballs."

Sycamore seeds have traveled the farthest to be included in the program. Astronaut Stuart Roosa, a member of Apollo 14 and a former fire jumper in the forest service, took seeds into space. Those seeds have grown into Moon Sycamores.

The Goose Island Live Oak, though, is by far the tree with the strangest tale to tell. It is one of the nation's largest and oldest trees, estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. Legend has it that the tree grows where cannibalistic Karankawas held pagan ceremonies, devouring their enemies. Early visitors to the area, near Rockport on the Gulf Coast, may have included explorers Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca in 1528 and Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in 1864.

It costs $35 to own a tree that has been to the moon or a sapling to remember the Alamo. American Forests will ship a year-old sapling and a 4-foot-high greenhouse. The tree should be planted and supported with a wooden stake; the greenhouse protects it during its first year in new soil. Buyers get a personalized history of the tree, fertilizer and a lifetime guarantee. "We want people to be successful," says Meyer, who takes a very paternalistic view of the trees. For more information, call 800-320-8733.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

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