History Stories

The White House is Taking Down the Iconic Jackson Magnolia

Jackson's Magnolia Grandiflora framing The White House for Vogue, 1967. (Credit: Horst P. Horst/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
Jackson's Magnolia Grandiflora framing The White House for Vogue, 1967. (Credit: Horst P. Horst/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
  • Print
  • Cite
    Article Details:

    The White House is Taking Down the Iconic Jackson Magnolia

    • Author

      Becky Little

    • Website Name

      history.com

    • Year Published

      2017

    • Title

      The White House is Taking Down the Iconic Jackson Magnolia

    • URL

      https://www.history.com/news/the-white-house-is-taking-down-the-188-year-old-jackson-magnolia

    • Access Date

      June 21, 2018

    • Publisher

      A+E Networks

For nearly 200 years, the Jackson Magnolia has been photobombing pictures of the White House’s south lawn. You can see the famous tree in CBS’s coverage of Richard Nixon leaving the office in 1974, pictures from numerous White House Easter Egg Rolls, as well as this photo of Woodrow Wilson’s sheep grazing on the south lawn around 1918.

But the Jackson Magnolia isn’t what it used to be. CNN reports that the tree has been declining for decades. Furthermore, efforts to preserve it by holding it up with cables and filling a hole in it with cement haven’t succeeded. Because of this, the White House announced in the waning days of 2017 that it will remove a large portion of the historic tree from the lawn.

Sheep grazing on the White House lawn, 1918. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)
Sheep grazing on the White House lawn, 1918. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

The Jackson Magnolia gets its name from Andrew Jackson, the president who planted it in 1829, during his first year in office. Magnolias were supposedly the favorite tree of his late wife, Rachel, who died just after he won the 1828 election. In honor of her, he chose a Magnolia grandiflora seedling (or little plant) from their Tennessee farm to bring to the White House.

Since then, the Jackson Magnolia has become a recognizable background figure in presidential events and photo shoots. When the U.S. Treasury inexplicably replaced Grover Cleveland with Jackson on the $20 bill in 1928, the Treasury even added an image of the magnolia to the back of the bill, where it remained until 1998.

1990 series of the $20 bill, featuring the Magnolia tree. (Credit: Public Domain)
1990 series of the $20 bill, featuring the Magnolia tree. (Credit: Public Domain)

The Jackson Magnolia is so iconic that in 2013, Barack Obama delivered a seedling from the tree to Israel as “a symbol of strength, perseverance and dignity,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also presented a Jackson Magnolia seedling to Cuba in 2015, the year that the U.S. restored diplomatic relations with the island nation. In addition, Michelle Obama donated one of the tree’s seedlings to the Department of Agriculture’s community garden during her time as first lady.

In fact, CNN reports that the White House has already been secretly growing seedlings from the Jackson Magnolia that can be planted once the tree is taken down. Groundskeepers started growing these trees, some of which are now eight or 10 feet tall, several months ago in “an undisclosed greenhouse-like location nearby.”

Which means that even though the Jackson Magnolia won’t last forever, its offspring will probably keep photobombing Easter Egg Rolls for decades to come.

Related Content

How can we improve this experience?