Trees company: A tour of some of Charlottesville’s landmark trees

The Shumard oak outside the downtown library is one of Charlottesville's landmark trees. Photo: John Robinson The Shumard oak outside the downtown library is one of Charlottesville’s landmark trees. Photo: John Robinson

“The Charlottesville area has a wonderful diversity of trees, and a climate that allows them to grow into old age,” says Robin Hanes, who heads up the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards’ Notable Trees Project. “We have some fine specimens just out right where everybody drives or walks.” 

The Tree Stewards, who plant, tend, and advocate for trees all over the area, have identified more than 60 notable trees in town. Twelve of those have earned special recognition as landmark trees.

Landmark trees, marked with a small metal plaque near their trunks, “are the biggest trees that also are in a location where a community is likely to recognize them as important,” says Hanes “They’re noticeable.”

Some of these landmarks are protected under the city’s Tree Conservation Ordinance—once designated, trees can’t be removed or intentionally damaged without the approval of City Council. Seven trees have been officially designated so far, and the city’s Tree Commission is in the process of nominating more.

In the meantime, building a community narrative around the trees offers a different kind of security, says Hanes: “Getting the public to notice them and come to love them—that is the best protection a tree can get.”

American elm. Photo: John Robinson

American Elm

Albemarle County Courthouse

You’ve seen this tree in photographs before—for decades, the twisting branches have served as the backdrop for the confederate monument that stood outside the courthouse. Last month, the statue came down, and the elm tree quietly stepped in to fill that space. The tree’s slender trunk and winding, gravity-defying branches now welcome visitors to the courthouse, an altogether more appealing monument than old Johnny Reb.

In the 20th century, Dutch elm disease killed 75 percent of America’s elms, but this one survived, and in recent years it has undergone preventative treatment against the disease.

Shumard oak. Photo: John Robinson

Shumard Oak

Downtown Jefferson-Madison Regional Library

This knobbly, asymmetrical Shumard oak looks old and wise—a perfect match for its location outside the library. On one side, circular scars are visible where branches have been removed over the years. On the other side, the tree’s sturdy limbs reach horizontally for 20 or 30 feet, far enough to keep you dry while you wait at the corner of Market and Third on a rainy day.

Shumard oaks are native to the Atlantic coastal region. This tree was likely planted in the 1940s, though the exact date isn’t known.


White ash. Photo: John Robinson

White Ash

Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society

The crown of this magnificent ash is visible from all around the block, its powerful branches climbing almost vertically into the sky. To see the trunk, though, you have to enter the historical society’s side garden from High Street. There, you can walk up to the base of the huge tree and run your hand along its thick, grooved, moss-spotted skin.

The tree is more than a century old. Ash trees across the country have been killed in scores by the invasive emerald ash borer, but this tree has been treated for protection.

Southern red oak. Photo: John Robinson

Southern Red Oak

Venable Elementary

Standing on the steps of Venable Elementary, the grand white columns of the school’s facade fill your view. Take a few steps back, maybe cross the street, and the picture changes. From here, the splendid Southern red oak next to the school dominates the scene.

The tree’s branches float outside classroom windows, the stuff of daydreams for the elementary schoolers within. In the fall, its crisp brown leaves blanket the playground and the school’s front yard. It’s the 10th-largest Southern red oak in Virginia.


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Carol P. Wise
Carol P. Wise

Wonderful article! Thank you Robin Hanes and the Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards for doing this work to protect these majestic trees.We are so lucky to live in a city with such treasures.