The Tree Anne Saw

The original white horse chestnut tree stood in a courtyard behind the Secret Annex in Amsterdam. Anne could see its crown through an attic window that was one of the few windows that wasn’t blacked out. Although her father recalled that she hadn’t previously seemed very interested in nature, the tree, as well as the sky and birds that she could see became Anne’s lifeline. “To Anne, [the tree] represented life in the face of death, the freedom to blossom and prosper,” said Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The tree outlived its young admirer by 50 years. One of the oldest chestnuts in Amsterdam, it collapsed in 2010; it was believed to be 170 years old. Seeds from the tree were germinated and saplings have been donated to schools named after Anne Frank all over the world, as well as to other organizations that share Anne’s humanitarian message.

The Sapling

Anne Frank Center Sapling Project logo

In the few years before the Amsterdam chestnut tree’s demise, the stewards at the Anne Frank House wisely created saplings that have since been distributed to numerous locations around the world. In 2010, The Anne Frank Center USA in New York City received several of the saplings to donate to worthy educational organizations across the U.S. Following a three-year safeguard quarantine, they were cleared for planting in January 2013. Currently, there are a dozen U.S. sites that host the saplings:

  1. U.S. Capitol, West Front Lawn, Washington, D.C.
  2. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Indiana
  3. Sonoma State University, California
  4. Southern Cayuga School District, New York
  5. Washington State Holocaust Resource Center, Seattle
  6. Boston Common, Massachusetts
  7. Central High School, Arkansas
  8. Holocaust Memorial Center, Michigan
  9. Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial, Idaho
  10. William J. Clinton Presidential Center, Arkansas
  11. Liberty Park, Commemorating 9/11, New York City
  12. United Nations Headquarters, New York City

The thirteenth U.S. sapling will be planted on the northeast corner of the UI Pentacrest. Horse chestnuts are are known for their large oblong clusters of white flowers that bloom in spring. Leaves have an upright-oval rounded form with lower branches hanging down. Growing at a medium rate, a mature horse chestnut can reach a height of 50–75′ and have a canopy spread of 40–70′. It is native to the mountainous, wilds of Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania. It is not related–other than by name–to the American chestnut which used to cover great swaths of the eastern and middle United States until a blight in the early 20th century.

In 2019, UI faculty member Kirsten Kumpf Baele (German, CLAS) prepared a lengthy proposal for the University of Iowa to receive a sapling, including letters of support from the local Jewish community, the UNESCO City of Literature, and campus leaders. Her application was approved in 2020, and in Spring 2022—following a wait due to COVID-19, a descendant of Anne’s chestnut tree will be planted at the University of Iowa.

The 13th sapling in the U.S. will be planted on the northeast corner of the UI’s Pentacrest on April 22, 2022. (Visit the Planting Ceremony page for more information.) The green space that comprises four monumental limestone buildings and the original state capital of Iowa is the unofficial heart of the community—the place where campus and town meet. It has long been a space associated with free speech, protest, and celebration. In the summer of 2020, it was the site of Black Lives Matter protests, where young activists demanded reparations from Iowa City. In the 1980s, a small tent village of protestors was erected, with its protestor-inhabitants demanding divestment from South Africa by the University. And during the 1960s, it was the site of protests against the Vietnam War. A few blocks away, at the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street, climate activist Greta Thunberg spoke to thousands in October 2019, and then marched with local youth who are demanding that the UI cease the use of coal.

The University of Iowa has special designation by the Arbor Day Foundation as a Tree Campus USA. There are more than 300 species of trees on campus, including a rare American elm that survived the Dutch elm blight that killed many trees on the Pentacrest in the 1960s and 70s and an American chestnut (a relative of the white horse chestnut), another tree type that nearly disappeared because of blight.

Other special trees include a grafted apple from the last remaining, documented Johnny Appleseed Tree, seven Iowa State Championship trees, and a William Penn Oak. Anne’s tree will have literary company. Eight new saplings grafted from the trees that grew at the homes of authors such as Henry David Thoreau and William Faulkner were planted in Fall 2020.

To learn more about UI campus trees, please contact UI arborist Andy Dahl.