Melania Trump Orders Removal of Near-200-Year-Old Tree From White House

Updated | The historic Jackson magnolia has been on the south facade of the White House since the 1800s—making it the oldest on the grounds. But Tuesday, Melania Trump reportedly made the decision to have it removed after tree specialists determined “the overall architecture and structure of the tree is greatly compromised,” the report stated, according to CNN.

CNN obtained documents from specialists at the United States National Arboretum, which determined the magnolia tree must be removed. The tree is “completely dependent on artificial support,” the document read.

The document said, “Without the extensive cabling system, the tree would have fallen years ago. Presently, and very concerning, the cabling system is failing on the east trunk, as a cable has pulled through the very thin layer of wood that remains. It is difficult to predict when and how many more will fail.”

GettyImages-883317612 President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump participate in the 95th annual national Christmas tree lighting ceremony held by the National Park Service on the Ellipse near the White House, on November 30. Melania reportedly made the decision to have a tree dating from the 1800s removed from the White House grounds after specialists determined the tree was compromised. Getty

A White House official told CNN that the first lady made the decision after reviewing and assessing professional information and historical documents. “Mrs. Trump personally reviewed the reports from the United States National Arboretum and spoke at length with her staff about exploring every option before making the decision to remove a portion of the magnolia tree,” Trump’s communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN. “After reviewing the reports, she trusted that every effort had been made to preserve the historic tree and was concerned about the safety of visitors and members of the press, who are often standing right in front of the tree during Marine One lifts.”

The tree was about to fall, and experts recommended its removal. Mrs. Trump, according to Grisham, has requested to preserve the wood from the tree. 

The tree is expected to be removed later this week. White House groundskeepers were prepared for the tree’s demise, however, and offshoots of the original Jackson magnolia have been growing nearby. They are around 8 to 10 feet tall and will be planted in the original tree’s place, according to CNN. 

Documentation reviewed by CNN revealed the Jackson magnolia has had apparent damage as far as five decades back. Three trunks of the tree grew from the base—tangling together in a mess of shared bark. One of those trunks was removed, leaving an exposed cavity that was filled with cement. Back in the 1970s, this was the standard procedure in this circumstance. The concrete, however, permanently damaged the tree. By 1981, a large pole and cable system were installed and still hold up the tree today.

GettyImages-80322814 Marine One carrying U.S. President George W. Bush takes off from the South Lawn of the White House, on March 20, 2008. First lady Melania Trump was concerned the grounds’ Jackson magnolia could fall on a visitor or press, especially during Marine One liftoff. Getty

The document from the United States National Arboretum also noted that “the high winds resulting from frequent helicopter landings complicates the future of the [west limb],” saying that it “may fail in an unpredictable way.”

“We understand this is a historic tree, and all measures have been used to save it to this point in time. While we cannot comment on the need to preserve the tree as long as it stands, we believe eventually, the tree will fail,” the report stated, according to CNN. 

The history of the tree stretches as far back as former President Andrew Jackson—who brought the tree from his farm, Hermitage, in Tennessee, according to CNN. Jackson’s wife, Rachel, died days after the 1828 presidential election. Following his inauguration, it is believed that Jackson wanted the magnolia tree planted in honor of his wife’s death. The exact date when it was planted is disputed, with some saying it was planted as late as 1835, according to Oak Ridger. There are two Southern magnolias, which were planted by Jackson sometime between 1829 and 1837, according to Dale Haney, the White House grounds superintendent. Presidents have long planted trees at the White House—including a cutleaf silver maple by former President George W. Bush in 2001 and a littleleaf linden by former President George H. Bush in 1991. 

GettyImages-669391222 Kids participate in an Easter egg roll race during the 139th White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House, on April 17. The White House’s historic Jackson magnolia has been the backdrop for events from state arrival ceremonies to Easter Egg Rolls. Getty

The tree was featured on the back of the $20 bill between 1928 and 1998. A 1994 single-engine plane crash damaged the magnolia by slicing off one of its branches. Last year, former first lady Michelle Obama brought a seedling as a gift to the people of Cuba—which wasn’t the first time replanted seedlings have been gifted. The tree has been the backdrop for events from state arrival ceremonies and Marine One departures and arrivals to Easter Egg Rolls. The tree stands behind the press during these events. 

This article has been updated to include additional information about the history of the Jackson magnolia and tree planting at the White House, and with additional insights about the decision to remove the tree. A previous version stated that Rachel Jackson died in 1928; that year has been corrected to 1828.