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Unbroken, the Survivor Tree that Stood Tall Through Oklahoma City’s Darkest Day

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Written By Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

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Home » Ancient & Remarkable Trees » Unbroken, the Survivor Tree that Stood Tall Through Oklahoma City’s Darkest Day

In the heart of Oklahoma City, an American elm known as the Survivor Tree exemplifies enduring strength and renewal.

This singular tree, the only source of shade in a bustling parking lot across from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, was cherished by early morning commuters eager to escape the sun’s heat under its sprawling branches.

Photographs from the 1920s show this elm as a thriving, mature tree already decades old by the turn of the millennium.

The Survivor Tree Canopy
Photo of the Survivor Tree titled ‘i survived’ by debaird™ via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

But in 1995, tragedy struck.

The Oklahoma City bombing, a devastating act of violence, nearly obliterated everything in its vicinity.

The blast tore through the tree, stripping it of most branches, embedding glass and debris deep into its trunk, and scorching it with fires from the exploding cars below.

Many believed the elm wouldn’t survive.

It stood, wounded and alone, a silent witness to the horrors of that day.

Yet, amidst the chaos of the aftermath, while investigators combed through every piece of evidence—even contemplating cutting it down to retrieve evidence lodged in its bark—the Survivor Tree clung to life.

Nearly a year later, during a memorial ceremony, a miracle was observed: the tree was budding anew.

Sprouting fresh leaves against all odds, it symbolized resilience and renewal. Recognizing its significance, the designers of the Outdoor Memorial made its preservation a priority.

Innovative measures were taken to protect its roots and ensure its survival.

A large pipe now safeguards a root that stretches beyond the memorial’s walls, and a raised deck with an underground crawlspace allows caretakers to tend to its needs discreetly.

Encircling this now thriving tree is a deck with an inscription inside that captures the indomitable spirit of the community: “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.”

The_Survivor_Tree_at_the_Oklahoma_City_National_Memorial
The Survivor Tree in 2004 – Dustin M. Ramsey, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

Each year, hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are nurtured into saplings.

On the anniversary of the bombing, these young trees are shared across the nation, spreading the legacy of resilience and hope.

Today, thousands of these trees grow across America, each a living tribute to survival and the unyielding human spirit.

Thus, the Survivor Tree remains a powerful emblem of endurance, its branches reaching skyward, rooted deeply in the past but always growing towards the future.

Digging Deeper

Location

The Survivor Tree stands on the north side of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, in the bustling heart of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Type of Tree

This resilient survivor is an American elm (Ulmus americana), distinguished by its broad, dense canopy.

Is The Survivor Tree In Oklahoma Still Alive?

Despite severe damage from the 1995 bombing, the Survivor Tree continues to thrive, budding anew each spring as a symbol of enduring strength.

Descendants

Hundreds of seeds from the Survivor Tree are planted annually, with the saplings distributed across the country, growing into new trees that carry the legacy of survival.

Can You Visit It?

Visitors are welcomed to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, where the Survivor Tree is a central and poignant feature of the solemn site.

Conservation

Special conservation measures, such as encasing one of its roots in a large pipe and constructing an underground crawlspace, have been implemented to protect the Survivor Tree and ensure its longevity.

Legacy

The Survivor Tree’s enduring presence and the annual distribution of its saplings symbolize the resilience and unity of the American people, echoing a commitment to remember and grow from past tragedies.

Want More?

If the tale of the Survivor Tree has piqued your interest, immerse yourself in the fascinating stories of other remarkable trees across the globe.

Discover the serene beauty of That Wānaka Tree in New Zealand and the revered Lone Cypress.

Each of these trees offers a unique and unforgettable glimpse into the world’s ecological marvels, from the majestic Ombalantu Baobab tree to the iconic Sycamore Gap tree, and the intriguing story of the Wyndham Prison Boab.

Source – Wikipedia

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Lakeisha Ethans

Heritage Gardener with Grafting Expertise

Lakeisha grew up in East Africa, literally surrounded by nature which sparked her interest in learning more about trees and plants from a very young age. She belongs to a family of gardeners, so for her, gardening is a way of life, a tradition she’s proud to uphold. As a self-taught gardener, Lakeisha has successfully grafted trees to produce hybrids for gardens and landscapes. When she’s not gardening, she’s writing about her experience with nature or watching baking fails!