Posted On: June 27, 2014

Meet the Tree: The James Madison Tree

When you’re in the park gazing at  Rachel Feinstein’s Cliff House, take a look to your left at the one of the grand old oaks taken from the James Madison Estate. The tree was dedicated in 1936 by the Fifth Avenue Association to commemorate the first centennial of the opening of Madison Avenue.  The Madison Red Oak, Quercus rubra, was excavated from his estate Montpelier in Orange, Virginia.

The estate was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1966. Marion DuPont Scott was the last private owner of the estate before it was bequeathed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Monpelier Hunt Races were founded two years prior to the planting of this tree. Some theorize that the tree was moved to make room for these horse races.

James Madison Jr., the tree’s namesake, was the fourth president of the United States and is often hailed as the Father of the Constitution. President Madison’s other accomplishments included authoring the United States Bill of Rights, collaborating  on the Federalist Papers,and supervising  the Louisiana Purchase.

Red oaks, like the Madison Tree, are one of the most easily transplanted oaks as  they do not have long taproots like many other trees. They are fast growing and durable trees suitable for street plantings and landscapes alike. Their wood is highly prized for lumber and veneer production.

Acorns of Quercus rubra display something known as epigeal dormancy,  meaning that  they will not germinate without a minimum of three months of freezing temperatures. Acorns take two years to fully develop on the tree and both Red and Black oaks hybridize freely and can be found  in many landscapes. The Madison Tree  shows some traits of both species. Under optimal conditions, Red Oaks are incredibly fast growing trees that can  live incredibly long lives – 300-500 year old specimens are not unheard of.