Alexander Says Legacy Of Jackson Magnolia At White House Will Live On

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

United States Senator Lamar Alexander Wednesday spoke on the Senate floor about the Jackson Magnolia, which the White House announced in December is dying and part of it had to be removed. 

“When President Trump visited the Hermitage outside Nashville in March of last year and laid a wreath on Andrew Jackson’s Tomb, he likely walked past trees that were also seedlings from the Jackson Magnolia,” Senator Alexander said. “The news from the White House about the Jackson Magnolia has special significance for Tennesseans and for several Tennessee families, including our own.” 

Senator Alexander continued: “Shortly after his arrival at the White House in 1829, President Andrew Jackson from Tennessee, the nation’s seventh president, planted a magnolia seedling in honor of his wife Rachel, who had died only weeks earlier. The seedling that Jackson planted came from a magnolia at the Hermitage, the couple’s home outside Nashville.  Over the years it grew into a magnificent, sprawling specimen, reaching the roof of the White House at the South Portico.  

“The Jackson magnolia itself may be dying but its children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren will live on. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan presented a cutting of the Jackson Magnolia to Howard H. Baker, Jr., when Baker retired as Reagan’s chief of staff. … [Baker] with the help of the University of Tennessee College of Agriculture, arranged for two cuttings from Baker’s magnolia to be rooted and sent to John Rice Irwin. In 1995, Sen. Baker presided at a formal ceremony at the Museum of Appalachia when those two cuttings—the grandchildren of the White House Jackson magnolia—were presented to the Museum. … According to the Museum of Appalachia, five cuttings have been successfully propagated from the Museum magnolia.” 

Senator Alexander concluded: “So while we commemorate the long and prominent life of the Jackson Magnolia, we can also look forward  to long lives from its grand-children and great-grandchildren now planted at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, at a city park in Sevier County and at the Hermitage and at other homes in Tennessee.” 

Senator Alexander’s full prepared remarks below: 

Some disappointing news arrived last month. The White House announced that the Andrew Jackson Magnolia is sick and dying and that part of it had to be removed.   

On Dec. 27, the east “leader” – which is a top section of a tree – was removed.  The other leader of the Jackson Magnolia is still intact, but is supported by a cabling system.  The part that was removed will eventually be replaced with a seedling from the original tree.  

When President Trump visited the Hermitage outside Nashville in March of last year, and laid a wreath on Andrew Jackson’s Tomb, he likely walked past trees that were also seedlings from the Jackson Magnolia.  

The news of the Jackson Magnolia has special significance for Tennesseans and for several Tennessee families, including our own. 

Shortly after his arrival at the White House in 1829, Jackson, our seventh president planted a magnolia seedling in honor of his wife Rachel, who had died only weeks earlier.  

During the presidential campaign Rachel had been so maligned about the legitimacy of her marriage to Jackson that she had said she would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in that place at Washington. 

The seedling that Jackson planted came from a magnolia at the Hermitage, the couple’s home outside Nashville.  Over the years it grew into a magnificent, sprawling specimen, reaching the roof of the White House at the South Portico.  

Take a look at the back of your twenty dollar bill, the one with President Jackson on the front, and you will see the Jackson Magnolia, along with another magnolia planted later to supplement it. 

The Washington Post detailed some of the tree’s history when the news was announced: 

“Long after Jackson left office, his magnolia remained.  Other trees were plants to supplement it, and the tree became a fixture in White House events.  Herbert Hoover reportedly took breakfast and held Cabinet meetings at a table beneath its sprawling branches.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke with Winston Churchill in its shade.  Richard Nixon strode past it as he left the White House for the last time after his resignation.  In 1994, a Maryland man piloting a stolen plane clipped the tree before suffering a deadly crash against the White House wall…

“No tree on the White House grounds can reveal so many secrets of romance and history,” longtime White House butler Alonzo Fields once told the Associated Press.

The Jackson magnolia itself may be dying but its children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren will live on. 

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan presented a cutting of the Jackson Magnolia to Howard H. Baker, Jr., when Baker retired as Reagan’s chief of staff.

Baker planted that cutting at his home in Huntsville, Tennessee.  Six years later, in 1994, Baker was lunching at his home with John Rice Irwin, founder of the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee.  

Irwin noticed the tree which by then had grown to a height of 18 feet.  Baker told Norris the story of the Jackson Magnolia and, with the help of the University of Tennessee College of Agriculture, arranged for two cuttings from Baker’s magnolia to be rooted and sent to John Rice Irwin.

In 1995 Sen. Baker presided at a formal ceremony at the Museum of Appalachia when those two cuttings—the grandchildren of the White House Jackson magnolia—were presented to the Museum.  They are planted in front of the Museum’s Hall of Fame.

In 1996 John Rice Irwin gave a cutting from the Museum of Appalachia magnolia to my wife Honey and me.  We planted this great-grandchild of the White House magnolia in front of our home outside Maryville, Tennessee. Today it is 80 feet tall. 

In 1998, a tornado destroyed the original magnolia at the Hermitage from which the White House Jackson Magnolia had been taken. 

At the request of the Hermitage officials, the Museum of Appalachia provided a cutting from the Museum Magnolia to replace the original tree.  It was presented at a ceremony presided over by Lewis Donelson, the descendant of John Donelson, Rachel Jackson’s father.  Sen. Baker and John Rice Irwin attended.

According to the Museum of Appalachia, five cuttings have been successfully propagated from the Museum magnolia.

In 2009 John Rice Irwin gave my wife and me another cutting from the Museum Magnolia which is planted at our home in Blount County.  

We in turn have given cuttings to Graham and Cindy Hunter in Knoxville and Denise and Steve Smith of Franklin.  Their trees are growing tall in the Tennessee soil from which the Jackson Magnolia came 180 years ago.

So while we commemorate the long and prominent life of the Jackson Magnolia, we can also look forward  to long lives from its grand-children and great-grandchildren now planted at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, at a city park in Sevier County and at the Hermitage and at other homes in Tennessee.



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