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Revolutionary Roots

January 28, 2013

Every tree tells a story, but if trees could talk, the Osage orange tree standing tall at Virginia's Red Hill plantation would likely echo the most famous quote from Founding Father Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty or give me death."

After dedicating 25 years of his life to Virginia's legislature, "The Voice of the
American Revolution" retired to Red Hill to further pursue his private legal practice. The plantation became Henry's final resting place when he fell silent to illness a few years later.

Henry's legacy survives among the shadows of the Osage orange at Red Hill, now home to the Patrick Henry National Memorial. The Patrick Henry Descendants' Foundation, later named the Descendants' Branch - Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, formed in 1980. And now visitors can reflect on Henry's significant contributions to the development of the U.S., as well as marvel a different kind of national figure, the Osage orange tree.

Red Hill's Osage orange was the largest and oldest tree of its species in America until just this month when it was surpassed by an Osage orange tree at River Farm, the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) in Alexandria, Va. Recognizing the Red Hill tree's outstanding characteristics, such as a 349-foot circumference, the American Forestry Hall of Fame declared the Osage orange a 2011 National Champion tree. Its structure is 60 feet and its canopy spreads approximately 90 feet across, casting a friendly shadow on the lawn at Red Hill.

The Osage orange species, however, also has a legacy of its own. Native to Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, the Osage orange got its name from the Osage tribe of Missouri. Its dense wood earned the species a nickname from French explorers: bois d'arc, meaning "wood of the bow." And after the conclusion of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806, the Osage orange gained popularity in the east.

Similar to America and the passion of Patrick Henry, the champion Osage orange tree roots back to a historical period of revolutionary spirit and American leadership. But unlike Henry's silenced tirades, the tale of America's history floats freely among the breeze that passes through the branches of Red Hill's Osage orange; a tale that began with the leadership of Patrick Henry and his fellow founding fathers.

As the Patrick Henry National Memorial says: "Step back in time. Stroll along quiet paths at Red Hill. Gaze over Patrick Henry's fields and forests virtually unchanged since the 18th century. Visit the place that embodied Henry's values of virtue, independence and family. Complete the ideas of the founders at the grave of their great voice of liberty."

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