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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
sugar maple at oak hill cemetery in Lewistown, IL

Cemetery Trees

Have you ever attended a reading of Edgar Lee Masters' poems at Oak Hill Cemetery in Lewistown during the Spoon River Scenic Drive? These poems are epitaphs of a dead citizen, delivered by the dead themselves.

Cemeteries are interesting places to visit. They serve the spiritual needs of the living as well as keep alive memories of the dead. Moreover, a stroll through the monuments seems to bring alive the history and culture of those people and their community.

Cemeteries are often beautiful natural settings. describes Greenwood Cemetery in Canton as a place "encompassing rolling hills, a gentle valley, fields, and natural woodland,"

For me cemeteries are also a place to see outstanding trees. There are many reasons why cemeteries offer superior trees. Cemetery trees are not disrupted by power lines, sidewalks, driveways, or other urban features that impact a trees growth. Trees are often left alone in a cemetery and allowed to grow to their natural height and spread. For this reason, cemetery trees are often found on big tree registers and some cemeteries also serve as an arboretum.

A great example is Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Nineteen state champion trees are found there, including an 82 foot tall yellow buckeye. This tree is 64 feet wide with a circumference of 168 inches. Spring Grove Cemetery is so spectacular that it was a required student field trip when I took the woody ornamentals class at the University of Illinois.

Similarly, many trees in Washington DC's Arlington National Cemetery have special meaning. The famous Arlington post oak hangs over John F. Kennedy's "eternal flame." Eight thousand trees are found across Arlington's 652 acres. The oldest is the 300 year old white "Taft oak" by President Taft's grave.

Nine big trees in Illinois are found in cemeteries. These include a flowering dogwood in Texico, a slippery elm in Lemont, and an Eastern white pine in Princeton. The pine is 97 feet tall and 49.3 feet wide. Go to for a complete listing of registered big trees in Illinois.

Sometimes trees are simply placed in cemeteries for their special meaning. Yew and cedar suggest eternal life. Cherry represent the Japanese idea of "the perfect death." Oaks symbolize power or victory. Pines mean immortality, while poplars convey sorrowful memories. Roses signify completion and willows are used to provide as a perpetual mourner.

Cemetery trees are special. "Forests may be gorgeous but there is nothing more alive than a tree that learns how to grow in a cemetery" (by Andrea Gibson).

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