Learn about the State Champion trees of the Arlington grounds
“What kind of tree is that?” is a question that visitors often ask when they tour the cemetery. I invite them to take a closer look at the tree’s trunk because over 290 of the trees have labels which include the trees’ scientific and the common names. Sprawled across 624 acres, the cemetery contains over 8,600 trees comprised of 300 different native and exotic varieties. Some of the most common varieties include oaks, maples, magnolias, dogwoods, firs, and elms. And though learning the common names of these beautiful trees is of great interest to some, visitors are also intrigued to discover that Arlington National Cemetery is a Memorial Arboretum.
In April 2014, as part of the 150th anniversary of the cemetery, the grounds were declared Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Arboretum, which is a living memorial service to the members who are laid to rest on these hallowed grounds. It is also a reminder of how the land once looked, prior to the Civil War. Originally the cemetery was an eleven hundred acre plantation which consisted mostly of woods. Today a small portion of those woods still exists near the Arlington House, and some of the trees on the grounds, are estimated to be over 250 years old.
In April 2015, the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program and the Morton Arboretum awarded the cemetery a Level II (out of four) arboretum accreditation. The four levels of accreditation recognize arboreta at different levels. In order to receive the level II accreditation the site must have at least 100 species of wooded plants, employ paid staff, have public programs and have a documented collections policy. In the same year, three trees were deemed state champion trees and one was deemed a co-champion tree. To be named an official state champion, the Virginia Big Tree Program must deem the tree to be the largest of that species in the state. This is determined by adding together the tree’s circumference in inches, its height in feet, and its average crown spread in feet. The Sawtooth Oak in section 12, the Yellowwood tree in section 23, and the Empress tree in section 46 are the three state champion trees. The Pine Oak in section 35 is a state co-champion, meaning there is another Pine Oak in the state very close in size.
Other trees of interest in the Cemetery include about 140 memorial trees which are dedicated to battles, wars, regiments, and even to individuals. There are currently 36 memorial trees growing as living dedications to Medal of Honor recipients. At the foot of each memorial tree in the cemetery, visitors will see a marker that explains the significance of each event or individual for which the tree was planted.
Visit Arlington National Cemetery not only to pay your respects to our fallen heroes, but also to admire the beauty of the grounds. All of the State Champion trees and many of the memorial trees are accessible from the live narrated tram tour. Learn more about the popular sites across the cemetery with this interactive Arlington map.
Arlington National Cemetery
Narrator, driver, trainer and dispatcher.