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The Survivor Tree: A Symbol of Hope That Lived Through 9/11

9/11 survivor tree
by Alison North Alison North

On September 11th 2001 - when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and targeted the Pentagon in Washington, killing 2,977 people in what was to become known as the worst terrorist attack ever carried out in US history. In the aftermath of the attacks hope was in short supply, but when it did come, it was from an unlikely source.

A month after the tragedy, some workers who had the depressing task of clearing Ground Zero found that something was left alive in the wreckage - a Callery Pear tree (or Chanticleer Pear, as it’s known in the UK).


This tree had been planted in the 1970s at the World Trade Center complex and had been uprooted and badly burned in the terrorist attacks, lying buried beneath the rubble of the towers for weeks afterwards. Unsurprisingly, it was in pretty poor condition - only a single charred branch remained attached to the broken trunk with a few leaves still hanging on. The root system had also been badly damaged. However, the ground zero workers, taking it as a symbol of resilience, decided to rescue the pear tree. They sent it to nearby Van Cortlandt park where staff at the Arthur Ross Nursery pruned the damaged limbs and replanted the now 2m tall specimen.

No one held out much hope for the Callery Pear, but remarkably, the following spring, it started to put on fresh growth.

9/11 tree

Image source: Flickr.


In the following years, the Survivor Tree made a miraculous recovery - bees buzzed amongst its deep green foliage, white blossom covered its branches once more and doves nested in its canopy. The tree stayed at Van Cortlandt for the next nine years to recuperate, before being returned to the 9/11 Memorial Plaza in 2010. By this time regrown to over 9m tall and thriving, it was replanted in a special ceremony by three survivors of the attacks. Michael Bloomberg, then Mayor of New York City, said: “Like the thousands of courageous stories of survival that arose from the ashes of the World Trade Center, the story of this tree also will live on and inspire many.”

The 9/11 Survivor Tree is still growing at the Memorial Plaza, and has now been joined by four hundred Swamp White Oak trees, which were chosen as they’re native to all of the three 9/11 crash sites: New York City; Arlington, Virginia; and Somerset County, Pennsylvania. It’s the Callery Pear, however, which draws the most visitors - as a unique symbol of regrowth, resilience and survival.


Every year since 2013, the 9/11 Memorial has given seedlings from the Survivor Tree to three tragedy-hit communities. These have included Manchester (for the arena bombing), London (for the Grenfell Tower fire) and many others around the world.

Top image source: Flickr.

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