A tree that remained standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001 continues to serve as a symbol of resilience and hope.
The Callery pear tree called “The Survivor Tree” is still there today in lower Manhattan. It was discovered about a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, badly damaged with burned and broken branches, but to a trained horticulturist's eye it was full of promise.
“I saw that tree and said, ‘There’s life there,’” said Tom Larson, an urban agriculture specialist who volunteers with OC Great Park. “There’s life in that tree.”
A decade ago, Larson asked for and received three foot-long cuttings from the original Survivor Tree. He vowed to grow them in Southern California soil, providing a place to spread their branches and a message of hope.
The trees have thrived over the past decade.
“Everybody has catastrophes, even on your own block, your own home,” Larson said. “People get busted, broken branches, broken hearts, broken souls, so when we’re not experiencing those things we have to be thinking about what we can do to make things better.”
Now, a Boy Scout who knows about the Sept. 11 attacks only through history books is working to create a permanent home where the trees can reach for the sky. Parin Ladva’s Eagle Scout project — a courtyard featuring the trees at OC Great Park — took about a year of planning, 40 volunteers and some heavy lifting.
Parin was not alive on Sept. 11, 2001, but he appreciates one of its most important lessons.
“No matter what happens, there’s always going to be a chance to re-grow and thrive,” Ladva said.
The Legacy Courtyard is near the entrance to the Farm and Food Lab at Great Park.
Trees grown through the Survivor Tree seedling program are scattered throughout the world. They sprout from the original tree’s seedlings, which are distributed to communities that suffered a tragedy.
Seedlings have been sent to The Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian; Christchurch, New Zealand after a mass shooting that killed 51 in 2020; Las Vegas, where a shooter killed 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest Festival; San Bernardino, in memory of 14 people killed in the December 2015 shooting and other locations.