View of the landscape at Lyndhurst in the Fall. The building is in the center and is framed by an array of trees.

photo by: Clifford Pickett

April 5, 2024

8 Great Trees to Visit at National Trust Historic Sites

While Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax “speaks for the trees,” do you ever wonder what the trees would say if they could talk for themselves? As witnesses to the world passing by, just imagine the stories they must have from the generations of human history they experienced in one lifetime.

It is this earthly connection that makes trees so precious, and sometimes, even after the tree themselves have been lost, we humans make a choice to transform their physical form so that their memory lives on.

Here are eight historic trees that form the landscape at National Trust Historic Sites. Perhaps if you sit quietly under their branches, they may whisper a few secrets in your ears.

Chinese Chestnut Tree at Brucemore (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

A view of the Chinese Chestnut Tree on the grounds of Brucemore. It is a large tree with green foliage set against a clear sky.

photo by: Brucemore

Brucemore's Chinese Chestnut Tree.

Dating back to the early 1900s, this remarkable Chestnut tree survived the derecho of 2020. Because of its age and placement on the property, it could have been planted by either the Sinclairs or Mrs. Douglas. David Morton, the curator of landscapes at Brucemore, speculated that Mrs. Douglas may have planted it as “she was the most influential person in terms of the landscape.”

The tree is believed to be one of the oldest Chinese Chestnuts in Iowa. Local arborists are amazed at its size, structure, and health.

The plants were imported to the U.S. in the 1890s to introduce them as an orchard tree because they were smaller than the American Chestnut but are abundant producers of Chestnuts. Two are needed, for pollination and for nuts to be produced. There is another, younger, chestnut tree at the top of Brucemore’s current orchard.

Osage Orange Tree at President Lincoln’s Cottage (Washington, D.C.)

With its twisting branches and odd fruit, the Osage Orange is an iconic natural feature of the President Lincoln’s Cottage grounds. Although it is unlikely the tree graced the Lawn during Lincoln’s time at the Cottage, one can easily imagine the President and his family finding comfort in the shade of trees like this one, climbing branches, and spending time with loved ones in the shadow of steady trunks.

Visitors can see the Osage Orange as part of the meditative landscape tour of President Lincoln’s Cottage, Lincoln’s Wild Home.

View of the Osage Orange tree outside President Lincoln's Cottage.

photo by: President Lincoln's Cottage

Osage Orange Tree at President Lincoln's Cottage.

View of the Blue Atlas Tree on the grounds of Oatlands a National Trust Historic Site in Virginia.

photo by: Oatlands

The Blue Atlas Cedar at Oatlands.

Blue Atlas Cedars at Oatlands (Leesburg, Virginia)

While exploring the grounds at Oatlands, you may be stopped in your tracks to admire the elegant Blue Atlas Cedars (Cedrus Atlantic Glauca). These majestic evergreens were planted in the 1900s on the site. Bright Star and Luck Penny, two greatly admired horses, would have trotted by these trees and many others as they made the way back to their distinguished carriage house (built in 1903).

Tulip Trees at Montpelier (Orange, Virginia)

View of the trees in the forest near Montpelier in Orange, Virginia. The image is looking up at the branches against a bright blue sky.

photo by: Montpelier

View of the Tulip Trees at Montpelier in Winter.

James Madison could sound a bit like The Lorax himself. He bemoaned frivolous destruction of trees, stating that “of all the errors in our rural economy, none is perhaps, so much to be regretted, because none so difficult to be repaired, as the injudicious and excessive destruction of timber and firewood.”

Countless trees can be found on the grounds of Montpelier. The Montpelier Horticulturist, Robert Myers, shared this about the tulip trees.

A myriad of tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) grace Montpelier’s 2600+ acre site. Their vibrantly hued tulip-shaped flowers are easily missed as they are typically found very high up in the tree.

One of Montpelier’s most impressive tulip trees can be found a short walk from the main house in the Constitutional Village. This massive tree was measured in April 2023. Even with the loss of its top, the tree stood 91 feet tall, has an average crown spread of 88’ and a trunk circumference of 23.9’ (7.29’ diameter).

If you would like to support this particular tulip tree, or other trees across the site, consider becoming a Montpelier Tree Sponsor.

Lindens at Lyndhurst (Tarrytown, New York)

View of the landscape at Lyndhurst in Spring. The golden light of sun creates a warm glow on the trees at grounds.

photo by: Clifford Pickett

View of the Landscape at Lyndhurst.

If you have been on a tour at Lyndhurst, you have heard that the site is named for its Linden trees. Second owner George Merritt expanded the original house in the 1860s, and he instructed his Bavarian-born Master Gardener, Ferdinand Mangold, to develop the previously open farmland into a picturesque landscape. Merritt named his new home “Lyndenhurst” (a wood, or the wooded rise of Linden trees) after planting the linden trees around the gothic-revival mansion to complement the spires and turrets. The next owner, Jay Gould, shortened the name to “Lyndhurst.”

European Linden trees are popular for their sweet-smelling flowers that bloom in the summer, and their dense canopy that offers shade and beauty. Today, you can find seven European linden trees on the grounds around the mansion.

Sugar Maple at Edith Farnsworth House (Plano, Illinois)

View of the old Sugar Maple in the fall next to the Edith Farnsworth House.

photo by: Farnsworth House

View of the Edith Farnsworth House with the old Sugar Maple prior to its removal in 2013.

View of the new Sugar Maple in front of the Edith Farnsworth House.

photo by: Farnsworth House

The Edith Farnsworth House with the new sugar maple in front.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe built this iconic Modernist house on this site in Illinois due to the placement of this beautiful sugar maple. For nearly 60 years the tree stood witness to the Farnsworth House’s activities—including restorations and changes of ownership, and when it eventually became a National Trust Historic Site in 2003. However, after decades of harsh storms, and even a few lightning strikes, the Farnsworth House’s witness tree neared the end of its life, jeopardizing the building’s safety. It was removed branch by branch in 2013. However, it is still a part of the site. A woodworker has transformed the wood saved from the tree into beautiful household objects that are available for sale in the site’s gift shop.

Olive Trees at Filoli (Woodside, California)

View of the Olive Trees at Filoli with one of the horticulturalists standing on a ladder working on the tree.

photo by: Brucemore

A staff member at Filoli working on some of the Olive Trees.

View of the Olive Trees at Filoli with a solitary bench between the rows.

photo by: Jeff Bartee/Filoli

View of the Olive Trees at Filoli.

The olive orchard (which consists of Mission and Manzanillo olives) on this Northern Californian estate is often one of the most photographed spots on the grounds. In the 1920s, William Bourn planted 175 olive trees at Filoli, hoping to become part of the olive oil production boom.

Though the trees proved to be too labor-intensive to farm (both in the Bourns's era and today), they add Mediterranean charm to Filoli. The trees did provide table olives for the Bourns as well as provide the house a grand entry one would expect at a grand country estate.

Currently, Filoli’s horticulturists are renovating the grove by taking trunks down from 30 feet to just above 8 feet. This multi-year project will give each tree more sunlight which will allow them to thrive for generations to come.

Filoli is home to many other trees, including rare Dawn redwoods, Weeping Higan Cherry, and Tasmanian Tree Fern.

Norway Spruce at Chesterwood (Stockbridge, Massachusetts)

In 1898, Daniel Chester French, American sculptor, planted a young Norway spruce at the northwest corner of the original Warner family farmhouse. He even recorded it in his garden journal as “Put out a Christmas tree back of house.” French referred to it as “a Christmas tree” as Norway spruces were widely planted for that very use in countries around the world.

When the farmhouse was razed to build the new Georgian Colonial style residence in 1901, the spruce stayed put. Today, it towers over the southwest corner terrace. This magnificent coniferous evergreen is prominent in many period photos, showing its prowess at growth.

A black and white image of the exterior of Chesterwood with the Norway Spruce in 1908.

photo by: Chesterwood

Historic photo of Chesterwood in 1908. The spruce is over the shoulder of the woman in the foreground of the image

photo by: Carol M. Highsmith

You can see the spruce at Chesterwood on the right of the residence in this photograph.

Norway spruces can grow up to 3 feet per year when young.

This 126-year-old spruce now stands at over 100 feet. It was once taller before a 40-foot leader was removed from the top due to damage sustained from a yellow-bellied sapsucker (woodpecker).

If you visit the site today, you can seek refuge in its shade during one of the site’s many outdoor summer events.

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Haley Somolinos is the manager of email marketing at the National Trust. She has a passion for places and the stories that they hold.

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