For the last two years, urban forester Bradley Daseler has carefully, and sometimes anxiously, watched over the two most famous trees in Las Vegas. In a few weeks, he will breathe easier when the trees are planted.
“I’ll be happy when they’re gone,” Daseler said. “They are important, so it’s a little bit of added stress having them in the nursery.”
The trees stem from the original Survivor Tree, which was recovered after the 9/11 attacks in New York City two decades ago and nursed back to health. The Survivor Tree later was replanted at the Sept. 11 memorial, and in 2013, a seedling distribution program was launched to share the symbols of resiliency and hope.
Since then, the Sept. 11 memorial has annually given seedlings from the ornamental pear to three communities that have endured recent tragedies. Las Vegas was selected after the Route 91 Harvest festival attack, which occurred on Oct. 1, 2017, and initially left 58 dead. Two more later died from their injuries.
Now, two years after receiving the pair of trees, Las Vegas is ready to give them a permanent home, according to city spokesman David Riggleman.
“We are pretty confident now that they’re going to do just fine planted in the environment here,” Riggleman said.
Moving to new digs
The first tree will be planted at Las Vegas Fire Department Station 5, which hosts an annual 9/11 remembrance ceremony. On display in front of the fire station is a piece of steel beam and U.S. flag that once hung over the World Trade Center.
“In our mind, it’s a very fitting place because of the connection that fire station has to the 9/11 attack,” Riggleman said.
He said the first tree likely will be planted a few days before the anniversary, as the small and solemn ceremony at the station does not “lend itself to a planting.” A longtime tradition in the fire service known as the tolling of the bells is used for the remembrance.
As part of a larger public ceremony, the second tree will be planted on Sept. 11 at Police Memorial Park. The park includes a memorial wall and two tree groves to remember local police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. A plaque dedicated to the Ten-13 retired New York Police Officers Club also is featured at the park.
“That tree felt fitting to put out there because so many firefighters and police officers were killed on 9/11,” Riggleman said.
Adjusting to desert life
Superintendent of Parks Steven Glimp said he didn’t know what to expect when Las Vegas was selected for the trees in 2018. But the moment Glimp saw them the following year, he knew they weren’t ready to be planted.
“We got these tiny little seedlings, and I was like, ‘Wow, we can’t plant that out in the field right now. It’s too much risk with it being vandalized or dying,’” Glimp recalled.
At the width of a pinkie and only about 2 feet tall, the two seedlings would need time to grow and acclimate. The seedlings, propagated on the East Coast, faced an adjustment period for the different microclimate and humidity.
The Sept. 11 memorial foundation had initial concerns about whether the trees could survive in the desert climate, but Glimp knew they could. He noted that the city had 99 other ornamental pears in its inventory.
Due to the heat, Daseler said, the early focus was on water management and ensuring that the trees did not dry out. That became less of a problem over time.
“They’re obviously unique trees and adaptable out here, but just require a little more care and input than some of the other stuff,” Daseler said. “And as you can see, they acclimated quite well.”
The two trees, nearly identical in size, have grown to a 2-inch diameter and stand at about 7 feet tall. The largest increase came from last winter when the trees were repotted with more soil in larger containers.
Glimp said the trees are still technically under the city standard of a 3-inch diameter, but they will have better success in the ground.
“Trees are kind of like fish. They’ll only get as big as the container they’re in,” he said.
Daseler said most of his work is done, and the two ornamental pears soon will join the nearly 45,000 other trees housed at city facilities. It will be a day that, for some, took longer than expected to arrive.
“Yup, they’re ready to go,” Daseler said while letting out a sigh of relief.
Pittsburgh, also selected by the Sept. 11 memorial in 2018, planted its seedling in November 2o2o.
The Sept. 11 memorial will choose its 2021 seedling recipients on Sept. 12. Last year, the Bahamas; Christchurch, New Zealand; and New York City’s five boroughs were given seedlings.