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Removing a Tree to Protect a Treasure

The pecan tree next to the Mansion was planted sometime in the 1860s, approximately sixty years after Washington's death. Although the tree remains in relatively good health, its towering size and proximity to the Mansion—the centerpiece of George Washington's estate—have caused heightened concerns, particularly during recent major storms. The frequency and severity of storms have both increased in the recent past and we don't see this abating. The tree weighs approximately 50 tons and with branches soaring 145 feet into the air, posing a direct threat to the Mansion and the priceless objects contained therein. The removal is scheduled to take place at the end of January 2014.

Video: Time Lapse of the Removal Process


Video by Patrick Teague, Bartlett Tree Experts

Video: Removing the Pecan Tree


Dean Norton, Mount Vernon's Director of Horticulture,
describes the need to remove the pecan tree.

As the caretakers for George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon's horticultural team and professional arborists keep a watchful eye on all trees growing on the grounds. We apply best practices to assure healthy specimens and to extend the life of our trees. Estate horticulturists regularly monitor tree health, often using binoculars to assess tree conditions and working quickly to address any concerns. Many of the trees in the historic area, including those planted by Washington himself, are comprehensively examined annually by arborists from Bartlett Tree Experts, Mount Vernon's partner in tree care.

In late 2013, we made the decision to take down the pecan tree. The removal is scheduled to take place at the end of January 2014. In making this difficult decision, we clearly weighed the risks of the tree damaging the Mansion against the aesthetic value of this majestic specimen.

About the Pecan Tree

WHERE IS THE PECAN TREE LOCATED?
The pecan tree is located next to the Mansion on the southeastern side of the home near the Potomac River.

HOW BIG IS THE TREE?
The tree stands approximately 145 feet tall. Its wood weighs an estimated 50 tons.

HOW OLD IS THE TREE? DID GEORGE WASHINGTON PLANT IT?
George Washington did not plant this tree. In fact, he didn't have any trees of this size close to his home. We believe the pecan tree was planted more than 60 years after Washington passed away, around 1860, making it an estimated 154 years old. This date has been determined by looking at photographic records. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association opened the property to the public in 1860, and there is no information in the Association's early records about the origins of this tree.

IS THE TREE IN GOOD HEALTH?
Mount Vernon conducts annual inspections on all of its trees. However, it is impossible to predict tree failures with 100% accuracy, and some structural weakness are slow to develop and difficult to detect. In the past, we have taken actions and intervened to ensure the ongoing health of the tree, installing cables after a cyclone damaged it in 1924. To the best of our knowledge, the pecan is structurally sound, but the simple and most important fact is that there is no guarantee that if the tree were to fall that it might not hit the Mansion, and the consequences would be severe.

SO WHY IS MOUNT VERNON REMOVING THE PECAN TREE?
This magnificent pecan tree has been increasingly subject to severe storm activity. Because of the threat it poses to the Mansion and the priceless objects contained inside, Mount Vernon officials have made the difficult decision to remove it. Considering its enormous size—145 feet in height and weighing up to 50 tons—it puts the Mansion in jeopardy in the event of strong storms or other natural disasters.

DID THE PECAN TREE POSE ANY RISK TO VISITORS?
Trees always pose a risk to property and people. A tree can look perfectly healthy and have hidden imperfections that may cause the tree or branch to fail. That is why we take tree care so seriously and spend time inspecting and caring for Mount Vernon's trees.

HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO REMOVE THE TREE?
We anticipate that it will take up to three days to remove the tree. An experienced four-man team will accomplish the task, under the strict supervision of a safety coordinator. Every limb and section of trunk cut will be cabled and lowered to the ground by a 160-ton crane stationed near the base. The removal will be accomplished methodically and with utmost attention paid to safety.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE WOOD?
While plans have not been finalized, it is our hope to have it milled for use in our preservation projects and perhaps for mementoes and gifts, We have done this with other trees in the past.

HOW MANY TREES EXIST AT MOUNT VERNON TODAY? HOW MANY OF THOSE ARE ORIGINAL WASHINGTON TREES?
Within the historic footprint of Mount Vernon (surrounding the Mansion and outbuildings), there are more than 100 trees, including six planted under Washington's direction or already in existence during his lifetime. More than 1,000 additional trees are planted near the modern buildings. Thousands of trees can be found in the forest that surrounds the estate. In the outlying areas of the estate, Mount Vernon horticulturists and foresters have identified eight additional trees that date to the 18th century. The oldest of these trees, a chestnut oak, predates 1683. The search continues for more original trees.

WERE PECAN TREES PLANTED AT MOUNT VERNON DURING WASHINGTON'S LIFETIME?
We know from Washington's records that he received pecan nuts from Philadelphia and planted them in March 1775. According to “A List of Ornamental Trees and Shrubs Noted in the Writings and Diaries of George Washington”, in May 1786, he planted more pecans in the botanical garden. Later, while in Philadelphia, he sent nuts for planting at Mount Vernon in 1787, and again in 1794 and 1795. A quantity of pecan nuts was delivered to the Alexandria post office from Philadelphia by Thomas Jefferson in January 1794 at Washington's request. The gardener at Mount Vernon was instructed to plant them in a nursery. There is no further mention of pecan trees in the landscape of Mount Vernon.

WILL YOU PLANT AN ADDITIONAL PECAN TREE TO REPLACE THE TREE?
We will plant additional trees, but in keeping with our mission to represent the estate as it existed during Washington's time, we will not plant pecan trees in this area. Washington planted pecan trees in a nursery, but there is no further mention of those young trees being transplanted to other areas within the landscape.

HOW CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT THE LANDSCAPE AT MOUNT VERNON?
On February 22, Mount Vernon will open a new temporary exhibition entitled Gardens & Groves: George Washington's Landscape at Mount Vernon, which explores the General's vision for Mount Vernon and how the estate has evolved over time.

Visit www.mountvernon.org/gardens to learn more about the history and ongoing maintenance of our gardens, and to watch how the gardens change throughout the year.

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Contact Us

Melissa Wood
Director, Media Relations
mwood@mountvernon.org
703-799-5203