I didn’t set out to write about visiting the 911 Memorial at the World Trade Center (WTC) site. My feet were sore and my camera battery was dead by the time I finally cleared security. Peering over the edge of the reflecting pools, I contemplated a single white rose placed on one of the engraved names and remembered the horror of that day.
After leaving the memorial I kept thinking about the tree, one of the last things I noticed. The elaborate web of guide wires trussing it up and holding it in place was what caught my eye. It wasn’t until later that I learned the tree’s story, a lone pear tree in a grove of swamp white oaks.
The Survivor Tree, as it came to be known, was rescued from the WTC site a month after the 2001 attacks, a charred eight-foot stump with one living branch. It was taken to the Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx where park staff nursed it back to health, not knowing at first if it could be saved.
The tree, a Callery pear (Pyrux calleryana), is a common one and was planted at the WTC in the 1970s. Originally imported from Asia in the 1800s, the trees are now found throughout most of the United States. We had a similar tree in our backyard when I was growing up in western Kansas. It was was the most exotic tree in our yard, especially beautiful in the spring when it was transformed into a cloud of white blossoms.
The Survivor Tree was moved back to the 911 Memorial site in December 2010. It still bears scars and always will, but has grown tall and strong, a resilient survivor. Its legacy will continue to grow through the Survivor Tree Seedling Program. During its rehabilitation tree experts propagated several hundred seedlings and over time they will be shared with other communities that have suffered tragedy and loss.