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Oatlands Trees

In 1798 George Carter received a large tract of land in the rolling hills of the piedmont where he built Oatlands. In 1965 the property was donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and for the last 50 years visitors have marveled at Carter’s beautifully proportioned Greek Revival mansion and the picturesque falling gardens that he carved out of the hillside adjacent to his house. 

Often overlooked are the old specimen trees that frame the vistas, line the paths, and anchor the terraces. These trees recall three eras at Oatlands: the wooded landscape that Mr. Carter first encountered; the stately trees he planted over 40 years; and the more ornamental trees that Mrs. Edith Corcoran Eustis, the 20th century owner, used to embellish her English-style gardens.

It was the trees that George Carter first put to use in building his plantation. Towering Oaks and Tulip Poplars were hewn for timber to frame the mansion, barns, greenhouse, and dependencies; wood from beeches and hornbeams was fashioned into farm implements; and the fruits of hickories, pignuts, and black walnuts provided food for both humans and livestock.

A prosperous planter of refined tastes, George Carter selected unusual trees for his gardens such as the Gingko, English Oak and the European Larch. To enhance the romantic nature of the property she restored, Mrs. Eustis added highly ornamental trees: Southern Magnolia, Blue Atlas Cedars, and Threadleaf Japanese Maples. 

Oatlands boasts over 30 different mature specimens of native and exotic trees, several of which have been state champions. Photographs of the property in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s indicate that many of the trees were already mature, dating them to George Carter.

Click here for tree map. 

1. Shagbark Hickory 2. Red Maple
As you leave the glass doors of the Carriage House you will notice immediately this tree planted near the drive in the roundabout lawn. Tool handles, agricultural implements, wagon parts, baskets, and archery bows have been made from this very heavy, strong, close-grained wood. Cultivated 1629.

Carya ovata
VA native

To the right along the drive is one of our ornamental harbingers of spring. Dense clusters of red flowers or reddish pedicels (stem of flower or fruit) pop open late March into April. The fruit called samaras may also be red. When the winged samaras drop they imitate flying helicopters. In the fall, Red Maples may turn either red or yellow. The heavy, soft wood has been used for furniture, woodenware, boxes, crates, wood pulp, and distillation products. Cultivated 1860.

Acer rubrum
VA Native

3. Norway Spruce 4. American Beech
When immature, this tree is very stiff but as you can see this mature specimen is gracefully adorned with pendulous branches. This grand tree needs a large property to grow on so its elegant habit may be more appreciated. It is native to northern and central Europe and has been cultivated since colonial times.

Picea abies

American settlers in times past would seize beech forested land for they knew rich fertile soil existed below the forest. This tree has also been a favorite of planting on grand estates as it was prized for the dense shade it produced and for its ornamental smooth gray bark. Cultivated 1800.

Fagus grandifolia
VA Native

5. Yellow Buckeye 6. Ironwood
Perhaps the most beautiful of the buckeyes, it has yellow flowers borne on erect panicles in early spring. Since colonial times, buckeyes have been carried by many school children and adults as good luck charms even though they are poisonous. Cultivated 1764.

Aesculus octandra
VA Native

Notice the beautiful fluted stems and branches with spiraling ridges that look like twisted muscles. This very slow growing tree produces very heavy strong wood. Its slow growth and small stature has fortunately not been valued commercially for timber. However, ruffled grouse and squirrels value its tasty small nutlets. A grove of plantings is in our picnic area. Cultivated 1812.

Carpinus caroliniana
VA Native & State Champion

7. Osage Orange 8. Bald Cypress
While George Carter was building his house and plantation at Oatlands, this tree was notated in the Lewis & Clark expedition journal on March 26, 1804 in St. Louis, Missouri. From the wood, native Americans made archery bows and early settlers made a yellow dye for fabric that was extracted from the root bark. Before barbed wire was introduced, rows of these thorny trees were planted as living fences/hedges. Cultivated 1818.

Maclura pomifer
Native

Next to the Osage Orange is a cone-bearing deciduous conifer that naturally thrives in swamps. In the fall, bronze needles drop in a rusty carpet below. This type of tree can live over one thousand years and its durable timber has been known as "the wood eternal." Cultivated 1640

Taxodium distichum
VA Native

9. Littleleaf Linden 10. Japanese Zelkova
Down the path, see the delicate descending branches of this beautiful shade tree. You are so fortunate if you visit when this tree is in bloom in late June or early July. Very fragrant small yellowish flowers bloom in profusion. If you missed the bloom, it truly is worth making another visit this time of year. Native to Europe and planted since ancient times.

Tilia cordata

Once considered a replacement to American Elm trees because of the Dutch Elm disease, this tough shade tree sports handsome exfoliating bark. The dark green leaves can change to yellow-orange-brown and possibly deep red to reddish purple.This tree can handle urban stress which makes it a great street tree. In America, cultivated 1862.

Zelkova serrata

11. Northern Red Oak 12. Horse Chestnut
Right across the drive is a large shade tree that provides acorns as food in good years for squirrels and other animals. The pointed leaf lobes on this tree identify this as a red oak...white oak leaves have rounded lobes. This oak specie is considered one of the fastest growing native oaks -- if not the fastest. Cultivated 1800.

Quercus rubra
VA Native
The next tree will be on your right after you have passed the Bachelor's Cottage. Look up and admire the large tree canopy behind the tall boxwood shrubs. Large showy flowers bloom in mid-May. The autumn fruit are beautiful mahogany colored capsules enjoyed by local squirrels and wild life. Native to Greece and Albania. Cultivated 1576.

Aesculus Hippocastanum
13. Shagbark Hickory 14. Tulip Poplar  
Not just another hickory tree at Oatlands is straight ahead. This large specimen flaunts foot-long shingles warping away from the trunk. The nuts were highly prized by Native Americans and early settlers. In autumn our squirrels rush to their dropping. Cultivated 1629.

Carya ovata
VA native

The Tulip Poplars are one of the tallest shade trees in North America. They really are not poplars but are actually members of the Magnolia family...the softness and color of the wood is like poplar wood. Tulip-like greenish yellow and orange flowers bloom late May to early June. The flowers depend on local honey bees for cross polination and supposedly tasty honey can come from this tree. Timber has been sold commercially as "yellow poplar" for furniture, interior finish, and various small articles. Cultivated 1818.

Liriodendrum tulipifera
VA Native

15. Southern Magnolia 16. European Larch
Virginia belonged to the South but this aristocrat originates from the Deep South. It naturally grows from the coastal plains of southeastern North Carolina to central Florida, west to eastern Texas along the banks of streams and hammocks. Successions of very fragrant flowers bloom from late spring through early summer. The dark green leaves are evergreen. Cultivated 1734.

Magnolia Grandiflora
Native

Welcoming you to the garden with graceful, pendulous branches is another deciduous conifer that was planted in George Carter's time. In spring, it displays cone-like flowers in red, pink, and yellow-green. The foliage turns gold in autumn. Its native habitat is northern and central Europe. Cultivated in colonial times.

Larix decidua

17. English Oak 18. Cherry
While on the same terrace as the Larch tree, look to the left into the garden while the Larch is on your right and notice this magnificent Oak. It appeares George Carter strategically placed this tree in what looks to be the center of his formal garden. While Britannia ruled the waves, this long-lived Oak provided the English navy with keels.
Long cultivated.

Quercus robur

To the left of the English Oak is a large Cherry tree whose delicate, soft pink blooms grace the garden late March/early April. Cherries are not long-lived so this tree is not historic. However, Mrs. Eustis embellished the garden with earlier trees. Cultivated 1894.



Prunus sp.

19. English Yews 20. Black Walnut
These slow growing beauties were planted by Mrs. Eustis after she and her husband purhased Oatlands in 1903. The sinuous bark of the trunks and branches turn a glossy deep red after it rains. Cultivated since ancient times and originated in Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia.

Taxus
baccata sp.
Since early colonial days the timber from this tree has been the queen of American wood cabinets and has also been the leading gun stock wood. It continues to be highly prized for furniture today and demand is high for walnut veneer. Cultivated 1686.

Juglans nigra
VA Native
21. White Ash The Oak Grove
An attractive tree for parks and other large sites with beautiful fall color...it changes to yellow to deep purple and maroon. From a timber standpoint, this ash has led other native ashes for the production of tool handles, athletic equipment, wagons, and railroad ties to name a few. Purple Finch and the Pine Grossbeak savor the samara/fruit. Cultivated 1724.

Fraxinus Americana
VA Native
Proceeding out of the garden's lower gate is the old Oak Grove to the left. New trees are planted to replace the old and commemorate cherished friends of Oatlands. You may walk through the grove... some of the trees are identified. Edith Eustis called the Oak Grove the "Living Glory of Oatlands."
22. Catalpa 23. Red Cedar
At the end of the walkway on the left is George Carter's father's favorite tree. In late spring, very showy bell-shaped flowers bloom white with purple streaks. The caterpillars which feed on the leaves are considered excellent fish bait. Cultivated 1726.

Catalpa bignonioides
Native
This tree is straight ahead across the drive from the Catalpa. Actually a Juniper tree, this slow growing, long-lived tree has been used as fence posts because of its durable wood. The heartwood has been used to manufacture cedar chests, lead pencils, and pails. Cultivated before 1664.

Juniperus virginiana
VA Native
24. White Oak 25. Blue Atlas Cedar
Looking down from the Red Cedar you will notice a gigantic solitary Oak towering over the pasture with a majestic crown spanning 150 feet. Considered the most handsome of oaks, this slow growing long-lived tree has been used in the timber industry for wine and whiskey casks, boat building, and furniture to name a few. Many kinds of birds and mammals eat the acorns.
Cultivated 1724.


Quercus alba
VA Native
Continue walking along the drive and in the opening on your right you will notice a large spreading conifer. Oh so blue, so beautiful, and so big. Mrs. Eustis had great foresight when she planted this tree amongst others on the Oatlands property. Native to Algeria and Morocco in the Atlas Mountains.
Cultivated before 1840.


Cedrus atlantic "Glauca"
26. Ginkgo or Maidenhair Tree 27. Japanese Maple
Continue walking back towards the mansion along the drive and down below, some distance from the front of the greenhouse you will see this large Ginkgo tree. Its elegant leaves, shaped like the fronds of the maidenhair fern, turn a shimmering yellow in the fall before abruptly dropping all at once. Notice another large American Beech southwest of the Greenhouse in the background. Cultivated in 1784.

Ginkgo biloba
 
Planted by Mrs. Eustis at the south entrance to the greenhouse. The contorted, lichen-encrusted trunks and branches hold deeply divided leaves that create a delicate, lacy appearance which turn burnt orange in fall. Long cultivated by the Japanese. Cultivated in England in 1820.

​Acer palmatum var. dissectum