What’s the Story Behind the 9/11 Survivor Tree?

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September 11, 2001, is a day that is forever etched into the memories of people around the world. Those who witnessed the attacks on the twin towers will likely never forget it. After the world came crashing down, people banded together to help friends, neighbors, relatives, and perfect strangers get through the harrowing days that followed. 

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In the aftermath of destruction and desolation, one lone tree was found at Ground Zero. It was burnt, charred, and its limbs had been broken off. But it was still alive. In an act based on nothing more than the mere hope that it might survive, the tree was taken to a nursery to heal. And heal it did.

What Is the 9/11 Survivor Tree?

The 9/11 Survivor Tree is a Callery pear tree that was found in the rubble of Ground Zero in October 2001. Its branches were burned and broken, and its roots snapped. The trunk was blackened due to the burning rubble surrounding it, but it was still alive.

The tree was taken to the Arthur Ross Nursery under the direction of New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and was slowly nursed back to full health. Upon arrival at Arthur Ross Nursery, it stood a mere eight feet tall. By the time it was ready to get replanted in the 9/11 Memorial Glade, it had grown to 30 feet high. 

Just before its installation at the 9/11 Memorial, the tree faced another threat: a storm. While still at the nursery, high winds uprooted and blew the tree over in March of 2010. The tree was cared for by workers at the nursery who righted it and resecured its position. Once again, it continued to thrive.

In a December 2010 ceremony, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels, officials from the Port Authority and Department of Parks and Recreation, and numerous 9/11 survivors took part in planting the Survivor Tree at the 9/11 Memorial Plaza where it stands strong and tall today. 

In Michael Bloomberg’s words, “The presence of the Survivor Tree on the Memorial Plaza will symbolize New York City’s and this nation’s resilience after the attacks. Like the thousands of courageous stories of survival that arose from the ashes of the World Trade Center, the story of this tree also will live on and inspire many.”

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Where Exactly Is the 9/11 Survivor Tree Located?

When you’re on a visit to New York City, you can’t help but stop by the 9/11 Memorial site. Here, you’ll find the Memorial Pools, the Memorial Glade, and, among 225 swamp white oak trees, the Survivor Tree.

The 9/11 Survivor tree is located in the pavilion at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and if you don’t know what to look for, you might just miss it. If you’re standing at the Memorial Glade, walk toward the east and look for a tree with a metal fence around the base. There will also be a small plaque that informs guests as to the tree’s significance. 

The tree is one among many but it’s the only Callery pear tree in the area. In March, you’ll notice it quickly, since it will be the only tree covered with white blossoms. During the rest of the year, keep an eye out for its unique dome-shaped green canopy. It makes a striking comparison to the rest of the white oak trees whose branches start up high and fan out as if reaching toward the sky.

How Did the 9/11 Survivor Tree Come to Be?

The Callery pear tree was one of the last living things to be pulled from the rubble of 9/11. Though charred, blackened, broken, and half-dead, it was taken to New York City’s Parks and Recreation Department nursery. Throughout the coming months and years, the tree was nursed back to life and grew from a mere eight feet to over thirty.

As plans got underway for a 9/11 memorial site, the director, Ron Vega, knew the tree had to be part of the pavilion. Though initially uncertain of where the tree was located, he tracked it down to the Arthur Ross Nursery. By the time it was ready for placement at the memorial, the tree had grown so healthy, the untrained eye wouldn’t have a clue what it had gone through.

Today, the tree stands tall as a testament to hope and resilience borne of loss and grief. If you look closely, you can still see scars and damage around the trunk of the tree where it was encased in burning rubble. As you look higher through its branches, you’ll view a canopy of green, strong limbs, and a tree that looks to stand the test of time. This representation of hope and resilience is exactly why Ron Vega wanted to place it at the memorial for all to see.

How Do You Pay Your Respects at the Survivor Tree?

There are several ways to pay your respects at the 9/11 Memorial site which contains the Memorial Pools, Memorial Glade, and Survivor Tree. Each of these areas is a place for thoughtful reflection and solemn remembrance of those who perished in the attacks. The names on the Memorial Pools include those who perished in the towers, as well as the names of firefighters, police, rescue workers, and volunteers who rushed into the tower to help save lives.

Near the Memorial Pools, you’ll find the Memorial Glade and Survivor Tree. While the Memorial Glade is dedicated to those who have been impacted by the toxins and hazardous materials produced due to the attacks, the Survivor Tree is a different kind of memorial altogether.

The Survivor Tree was planted in tribute to the resilience, survival, and rebirth of a nation in the face of hatred and terrorism. The tree is the lone symbol that gives rise to hope and a prevailing sense of optimism in a place where the ultimate sacrifice is honored. Whether you visit the memorial during the September 11th National Day of Service or another time of year, your visit would be incomplete without stopping by the Survivor Tree.

When paying respects at the Survivor Tree, you may choose to stand in silent reflection and think about the men and women who have risen from the rubble, those who offered their lives to help the helpless, and those who are forever impacted but choose to rise above the limitations placed on their health as a result of the attacks. You can think of the families who lost members and, as you look at the tree’s scars, think of their scars. But you can also see through the tree’s new growth how each person impacted by the September 11th attacks will slowly but surely heal and grow strong once again.

For an even more poignant experience, visit the tree during the middle of March. During this period the tree is in full bloom and stands in stark contrast to the bare oaks that surround it. A fitting reminder that life can still blossom even when all seems lost and desolate.

As opposed to the main Memorial Pools and Memorial Glade, there is little room to place tokens of remembrance at the memorial tree. The tree itself is cordoned off by steel railing for protection and is adorned with a simple sign to signify its importance. If you choose to leave a card, letter, flower, or another tribute item, instructions to visitors indicate the items can be placed at the Memorial Pools and the Memorial Glade. Any perishable tribute items left at the memorial will be gathered at the end of the day by park staff. Non-perishable tribute items are collected periodically and retained at the discretion of the memorial staff.

Survivor Tree Seedling Program

The Survivor Tree is a testament to national resilience, hope, and strength. Because of this, the 9/11 Memorial launched the Survivor Tree seedling program. Each year, seedlings from the Survivor Tree are given to three communities around the world that endured tragedy. The recipient communities pledge to nurture the tree as a symbol of hope and resilience. Recipients include:

  • Las Vegas, Nevada, in honor of those killed and injured from the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting in October 2017.
  • Haiti, in the aftermath and devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
  • San Bernardino, in remembrance of those killed and injured on December 2, 2016.
  • Newtown, Connecticut, in remembrance of the lives taken during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012.
  • Gulfport, Mississippi, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2014.
  • Boston, Massachusetts, after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

Survivor Tree seedlings are planted in a prominent location in honor of those killed or injured and their families. Through the Survivor Tree Seedling Program, twenty-one communities around the world have been given this living symbol of hope and resilience.

From Surviving to Thriving

When the 9/11 terror attacks occurred, the nation was rocked by sorrow and grief. It seemed impossible that things would ever be the same again. Yet, day by day, month by month, the community of New York City and cities around the world gathered together to support, help, and uplift the individuals and families impacted by such an incredible tragedy. Just like the Survivor Tree, those impacted by the 9/11 attacks rose from the ashes to stand strong in the face of tragedy, heal after devastating loss, and live once more.


Sources

  1. Nace, Trevor. “The Tree that Survived 9/11.” Science, Forbes, 11 September 2017. forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2017/09/11/tree-survived-911/#65300c73de0a.
  2. National Geographic. “9/11 Survivor Tree Returns to Ground Zero.” YouTube, 11 November 2014.  youtube.com/watch?v=5bLw6bREcbU.
  3. “Mayor Bloomberg Plants “Survivor Tree” at 9/11 Memorial.” Office of the Mayor, New York City, 22 December 2010. www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/522-10/mayor-bloomberg-plants-survivor-tree-9-11-memorial.
  4. “The Survivor Tree.” The Memorial, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, 2020. 911memorial.org/visit/memorial/survivor-tree.
  5. “Survivor Tree Seedling Program.” The Memorial, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, 2020. 911memorial.org/visit/memorial/survivor-tree/survivor-tree-seedling-program.
  6. “Visitor Guidelines.” The Memorial, 9/11 Memorial and Museum, 2020. 911memorial.org/visit/about/visitor-guidelines.
  7. Elliot, Scott. “The 9/11 Tree Returns Home.” NY Region, New York Times, 26 March 2015. nytimes.com/2015/03/26/nyregion/the-9-11-survivor-tree-returns-home.html 
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