The Davie Poplar

Have you ever wondered why Davie Poplar looks the way it does? One answer is that’s what a few hundred years will do to you. The longer answer involves hurricanes, wind storms, and other natural disasters. The image above comes from the University of North Carolina magazine and shows Davie Poplar after one of those natural disasters in 1902. University historian and former president Kemp Plummer Battle describes the event below:

“On August 6th there was a fierce wind from the northeast. Coming from an unusual direction there was a sad destruction of venerable trees. There was general grief because the symmetry of the Old, or Davie, Poplar was destroyed. Two immense limbs were torn off and it appeared that the loss was irreparable. Since the disaster, however, the noble and majestic tree has made mighty efforts to renew its boughs and hope is felt that something of its original grace will be restored.” [History of the University of North Carolina. Volume II: From 1868 to 1912, p. 619]

6 thoughts on “The Davie Poplar”

  1. I am sure most of your readers already know this, but it’s a good place to point out that in connection with UNC’s bicentennial in 1993, one hundred Davie Poplar cuttings were grown into saplings and one was planted in each of the one hundred counties in North Carolina. And of course, there is the Davie Poplar Jr. which was planted next to the original many years ago. I believe the Davie Poplar cutting-sapling for Orange County is also planted there on McCorkle Place.

    That’s all from off the cuff recollection, so someone correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Mark, I think you are correct–but we can always rely upon Bob Anthony’s knowledge of the Davie Poplar cuttings. He is one of the experts on the topic.

    I wonder just how many of those carried out and planted around the state as a part of the university’s bicentennial celebration are still alive. I would bet not that many made it through the first couple of summers. But who knows . . .

  3. Mark and Kevin, thanks for the additional information. You are correct about there being a Davie Poplar seedling in all one hundred counties. The NC Collection has a map of where the seedlings were planted and several other items related to this event from UNC’s Bicentennial. However, I think that the Davie offspring came from seeds that were gathered.

    Also, I did hear (again with no hard facts to corroborate the story) that my home county’s seedling was accidentally cut down! What makes this story particularly distressing is that my home county is none other than….Davie County! Named after William R. Davie himself. Plus, the seedling was planted at…yes, you guessed it…William R. Davie Elementary.

  4. I recently heard of a project that a UNC alumnus is trying to develop some interest for. He wants to get a casting made of the Davie Poplar and then have it reproduced in bronze and stored somewhere securely. Then, when the tree does “go away”, there will be a bronze replacement for it.

    I think it sounds like a great idea! Who would need to approve such a project? How could we get a groundswell movement going? This UNC symbol is just too iconic to ever think that it won’t be there.

  5. Why not plant another Tulip Poplar? They can last 300 years. A stutter can’t replace a tree. The Davie poplar is a tulip poplar.
    The fact that he gave the trees away was lovely but a little conceited to try to change the name of the tree to his name. It’s bad enough having buildings named after plantation owners.

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