Shortly after the oak arrived on the southern lawn of the White House, a gift from a WWI battlefield in France, it suddenly disappeared.
The oak, which was believed to be the symbol of a long-standing Franco-American alliance, had been placed in quarantine because it was a living being imported into the United States, the French ambassador said. It would be replanted, he said.
But that did not happen. Now, over a year later, it seems we know why.
The European sessile oak was dead, confirmed French President Emmanuel Macron.
“It’s not a tragedy,” Macron said in an interview in Geneva with Swiss channel RTS. “You should not see symbols where there are none.”
The circumstances of his death are a bit mysterious. According to a diplomatic official, experts consulted during the process said that differences in soil composition often make it difficult for a foreign tree to root.
“It turns out that for American health reasons, he underwent a quarantine, and the poor man did not survive because he was put on a somewhat difficult diet,” Macron said in the interview, which was published Tuesday, without specifying the exact circumstances of the disappearance of the tree.
The White House did not respond to requests for comment. The news first appeared in French media reports.
The European sessile oak was around five to ten years old, according to the White House, when it was delivered in April 2018, a gift from Mr Macron during his first official state visit from the Trump administration.
The tree was less than five feet tall.
But what he lacked in size and longevity (his family’s oaks have been known to live for hundreds of years) he made up for with the symbolism he was said to possess.
It was transplanted from the Bois de Belleau, a battlefield 60 miles east of Paris where thousands of Marines died in a battle against the Germans pushing towards the French capital.
When the oak was planted on the South Lawn, Mr. Macron, who had previously had relations with President Trump, said he was happy that the tree “can now take root here in the White House in front of us as a symbol of sacrifice. and the common battles that France and the United States fought together, âaccording to a transcript of his remarks.
Mr Trump and Mr Macron stood for photos, shovels in hand, as the tree was planted. During the visit, the presidents embraced. There was a mutual kiss on the cheek.
The next day, Vice President Mike Pence said: “In the words of the psalmist, may this relationship grow ‘like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, and bear fruit in season whose leaves do not wither. no more “.
Relations between Mr Trump and Mr Macron have deteriorated over the next few months due to differences in approaches to security and trade, in particular Mr Trump’s decision to withdraw from the multinational nuclear deal. with Iran and to reimpose sanctions on the country.
At a meeting last November in France on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the relationship appeared strained and forced – in stark contrast to Mr Macron’s visit in April.
News of the oak’s death came as Mr. Trump visited France again, this time on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of World War II. Men have tried to put their differences behind them.
Doug Tallamy, a professor at the University of Delaware who teaches ecology classes, said it was no surprise the oak tree died. While oaks of the same family as the European oak exist in the United States, including the Washington area, he said that grafting from an oak that is already five to 10 years old necessarily results in root damage. .
âEveryone wants instant gratification, so they want big trees,â he said. âYou get a beautiful, long-lasting tree if you plant it small and let the roots develop. “
In the interview, Mr. Macron promised to send Mr. Trump a new oak from Belleau Wood.
âThe shoveling that Donald Trump and I did was a symbolic moment; it was strong, âMacron said. But what the oak itself symbolized was stronger, he added: the sacrifice of the American Marines during World War I and the friendship between France and the United States.
“And that’s much more important than us,” Macron said.