R.I.P. – an ode to Piedmont Park’s grand magnolia tree

By Maria Saporta

One of the most popular trees in Piedmont Park – a hundred-year-old magnolia tree – toppled over last Friday with its root plate cracked.

The magnolia stood majestically near the bridge between the park’s two lakes. Its low-hanging branching were at a perfect height for climbing, something I loved to do when I was growing up.

Piedmont Park magnolia tree

Piedmont Park’s grand magnolia tree on Friday, July 29 after it had toppled over (Special: Piedmont Park Conservancy)

It also was a favorite tree for photos with people standing next to or sitting on the welcoming branches. It was a tree that literally reached out to people – seemingly wanting all the love and attention it had received for decades and decades.

But sadly, it is no more.

Walking around Piedmont Park on Sunday morning, I gasped when I saw the freshly sawed off trunk of the tree. I went over to look, and the core of the tree showed signs of decay and rot. A bunch of flowers rested on top of the trunk showing that other tree lovers were grieving for our loss of our old magnolia friend.

Mark Banta, president of the Piedmont Park Conservancy, told me in an email that the tree toppled over around 5:30 p.m. last Friday when the root plate broke. It was just supported by the climbing branch.

There were no storms or high winds. Apparently it just was the tree’s time to go.

magnolia tree

The trunk of the magnolia tree shows how it had rot at its core. Flowers were placed on the trunk to mourn its passing (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Banta said the city’s tree crew quickly cut down the magnolia because of “the risk of the tree rolling one way or the other and falling to the ground” and possibly being a danger to park goers.

“I’m guessing the tree was over a hundred years old,” Banta wrote, adding that it got a base trunk piece so they could count the rings and better estimate its age. “Yes, you are correct the tree had a fairly significant rot column that went down into the root plate, which is why the tree fell.”

It goes without saying that we will all miss the great magnolia tree, which gave us so many poignant memories. If any of you has photos of the tree when it was in its prime, please email them to [email protected], and we will try to post them.

Photos and notes from readers:

Hi Maria,

I am so sad to hear about that tree!  Please see attached photographs.  I did a photo shoot with a local musician, Dylan Cornell, there last summer.

Please reference me using my website below.

Thanks and have a great day,

Bonnie M. Morét

Professional Photographer

Dylan Cornell and Bonnie Morét

Dylan Cornell sits on limb of magnolia tree at Piedmont Park (Photo by Bonnie Morét)

Dylan Cornell and Bonnie Morét

Dylan Cornell sits on limb of magnolia tree at Piedmont Park (Photo by Bonnie Morét)

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

16 replies
  1. Nancy Williams Demmers says:

    I hope the magnolia tree across from PCM at the old Crackers Stadium is safe. The plate with the historical tribute about the baseball team is missing and who knows if the tree is getting any attention.Report

    Reply
  2. Bonnie M. Morét says:

    This makes me sad. Per your request, I sent a couple of photos to the email address in your report. Thanks for always keeping us informed, Maria!Report

    Reply
  3. Chad Carlson says:

    That tree does not have long either. A couple years ago Trees Atlanta took cuts from the tree to transplant them to different locations to grow new trees because the tree is dying.Report

    Reply
  4. Bonnie M. Morét says:

    Ecologist Eli Dickerson, a volunteer for the Trees Atlanta Champion Tree Program list, a sort-of Who’s Who of metro Atlanta’s most significant trees indicated that considering its size, this magnolia may have been here when the Cotton States and International Exposition was held on the park’s grounds in 1895.Report

    Reply
  5. Nancy Williams Demmers says:

    I don’t know who (what department) issued it, but would like to see it replaced. I also hope that some of the cuttings were placed near these grand old trees. Any clue who should contact who? Th ank you Chad.Report

    Reply
  6. William Matson says:

    I’m thinking that one way to memorialize this venerated tree would have been to treat the stump that is what was left behind as an environmental work rather than left raw like something left over from a long life.Report

    Reply
  7. urban gardener says:

    If people had been prohibited from climbing on the tree and ripping its branches off, would it have improved the tree’s health and so lengthened its lifespan? The tree has looked ‘peaked’ for some years now, what actions did the Conservancy take to assess its health and try to improve it?Report

    Reply
  8. Wormser Hats says:

    Magnolias are an ancient genus of angiosperm (fruit-bearing) that retain a nod to their more-ancient cone-bearing cousins. 
    They are among the oldest family of broadleaf trees in the southeast and have evolved adaptations for survival, including sending-out scores of basal sprouts.  While the trunk and canopy have been felled, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the root system has enough living tissue, which may-yet yield new shoots.  One shoot need only be selected and nurtured for this venerated sentinel to thrive for a few more generations.  It will just take time and care to see if this grand-lady gives an encore performance following her curtain call.Report

    Reply

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