The Tree That Owns Itself

22 February 2019 2 minute read

Treethatownsitself
Son of Tree That Owns Itself by Bloodfox/Public Domain

According to legend, a man from Georgia, US, loved his white oak tree so much he gave it ownership of itself. But is it too good to be true?

The Tree That Owns Itself - you can’t deny it has a good ring to it. You can practically hear the tree say ”get off my branches, you don’t own me”. However, it’s actually a very rare occurrence, and only a few trees have ever gotten the honour as far as we (and the internet) know of. The most famous one is located in Athens, Georgia - and this is where our story begins.

The earliest-known telling of the tree's tale comes from a front-page article titled "Deeded to Itself" in the Athens Weekly Banner of August 12, 1890. Here we can read about a white oak tree (also called the Jackson tree) which was granted a plot of land 8 feet in radius by its owner, William H. Jackson. He loved it so dearly that upon his death he granted it its autonomy. Good guy William.

According to the newspaper article, the official deed reads:

For and in consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides.

William H. Jackson

Forandinconsideration

Sadly, “for all time” was not meant to be. The tree was felled by a windstorm in 1942, after it had grown too old and feeble to survive. By this time the tree had become a local landmark, and the community rallied to replace it. Four years later, the Junior Ladies Garden Club planted a new tree using one of the tree’s acorns. It’s now known as the slightly more convoluted “Son of the Tree that Owns Itself”.

The fact that the Tree That Owns Itself is actually the Son Of The Tree That Owns Itself is one thing, but does it actually own itself? The common law of the state of Georgia dictates that any person or thing receiving property must have the legal capacity to accept the delivery of said property. Even William’s beloved tree couldn’t do that. 

Regardless of the legal status, the city of Athens still acknowledges the tree’s rights, and maintains the tree as part of municipal street clean up. The oak has become a celebrated member of the community, and locals throw tree birthday parties and decorate it for Christmas. Every Arbor Day, local schools plant seedlings from the tree, and community foresters have propagated dozens more. The Son of the Tree That Owns Itself But Not Really is quietly making the city a better place.

Donate to Trees for Cities and together we can help cities grow into greener, cleaner and healthier places for people to live and work worldwide.

Donate