Limbs, leaves and a legacy

When Carolina celebrated its bicentennial in 1993, saplings from the Davie Poplar tree were planted throughout the state. We revisited some of those saplings and the Tar Heels who planted them to see how Carolina has literally taken root in North Carolina.

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The Davie Poplar tree has been keeping watch over Carolina students in Chapel Hill ever since the University opened its doors more than two centuries ago. And just as Carolina’s mission and impact have spread throughout North Carolina over the years, so has the storied tree’s roots.

To celebrate Carolina’s bicentennial in 1993, a group of 100 students representing North Carolina’s 100 counties received saplings from the Davie Poplar to plant in their hometowns and bring a piece of Carolina to every corner of our state. That group included Mark Darby, a sixth grader at Shallotte Middle School at the time. Today, his poplar is standing tall in the southeastern North Carolina town of Shallotte.

“To think that this tree has different siblings across the state in different counties, it gives you a sense of connectedness,” Darby said as he stood near the now-grown tree.

To ensure there were enough healthy Davie Poplar saplings for all of the middle school students at the bicentennial celebration, the North Carolina Botanical Garden grew nearly 500 ahead of the ceremony. Some of those remaining trees were given to Carolina alumni like Bill Walker ’65 of Charlotte.

Walker’s Davie descendant towers over his yard. Its legacy, he said, is also a towering force.

“Just as the University is not located only in Chapel Hill, I think it’s appropriate that the Davie Poplar has sort of replicated that,” Walker said. “The fact that there are these saplings growing now all over the state is a very special thing.”