The Survivor Tree

With the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 just a few days away, I thought I would share the story a survivor that not many people know about.  Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 a team from the New York City Parks Department was sent to Ground Zero to identify any salvageable flora among the rubble.  Given the extent of the devastation surrounding Ground Zero, they knew that the chance a finding any surviving and salvageable trees or shrubs would be slim.

Originally planted at the World Trade Center site after its completion in the 1970s, a callery pear tree was discovered among the wreckage in October 2001.  With snapped roots, a blackened trunk, and all but eight feet crushed by debris when the towers fell, its survival seemed like a long shot.

“Honestly, I think the reason we decided to rescue it is because of its symbolic value,” said Mr. Gunther, the deputy chief of forestry, horticulture, and natural resources at the parks agency.

The tree was replanted at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx where it was slowly nursed back to health.  When it arrived, still covered in gray ash, it was unknown whether the tree would survive because there was not a single leaf on the few remaining branches.  However, in the spring of 2002, as the last of the debris was removed from Ground Zero, buds also appeared for the first time on the callery pear and hope was renewed that it would survive.

Over the years since 2001 the Survivor Tree has continued to slowly recover, much like its former home at the World Trade Center.  Years passed, plans for the site at Ground Zero changed, and because of turnover among officials planning the 9-11 Memorial, the tree was actually misplaced for a few years. (Callery pears are fairly common in New York City after all.)  In April 2009 Ronaldo Vega, project manager for the 9-11 memorial park, began searching for the tree as he worked on pinpointing the spot where every single tree would be planted.

“Where’s our Survivor Tree?” he asked his colleagues.  “I know there’s a Survivor Tree.  I’ve heard the legend.  I know it’s out there.”

Finally, he reached out by email to some of his former colleagues at the Department of Design and Construction.  Rebecca Clough, an assistant commissioner, replied, “I know where that tree is.”

On December 22, 2010 the Survivor Tree returned home when it was replanted at the 9-11 Memorial Plaza at Ground Zero.  This spring the now 35 foot tall Survivor Tree bloomed in the shadow of the construction at One World Trade Center.  Both now stand as a symbol of the city’s and the country’s resilience after the attacks.

Source: ABC News, Wikipedia, et. al.