Roanoke's Bittle Tree - Tulip Poplar

Watch a time lapse of the removal of the Bittle Tree, April 25-26, 2013

Watch the Bittle Tree Ceremony on April 24, 2013

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April 23, 2013 announcement 

Roanoke College is losing one of its historic icons, a tulip poplar tree thought to be more than 150 years old, that has been coined "Bittle Tree" in honor of the College's founding president who planted it, Rev. David Bittle. The Bittle Tree is scheduled to be removed later this week because it has been identified as a significant safety risk by professional arborists.

Unfortunately, after sustaining significant damage from being struck by lightning several years ago, the Bittle Tree has become a safety risk for the College community. Before Roanoke's Board of Trustees came to the difficult decision of removing the Bittle Tree, several attempts were made to preserve the tree, including deep soil aeration area around the tree. 

On Wednesday, April 24, there will be a brief ceremony at 3:30 p.m. in honor of the Bittle Tree. The ceremony will include remarks by President Michael Maxey and a brief history from Dr. Mark Miller, Roanoke's David F. Bittle College Historian and Professor of History. The Bittle Tree ceremony will be streamed here and posted to this page after the ceremony. One of the "baby Bittle" seedlings, planted last year, will be unveiled.

The Bittle Tree symbolically represents more than 150 years of Roanoke's commitment to an ethic of tree planting. Last year alone, more than 100 trees were planted on Roanoke's main campus. Additionally, a group of Roanoke students, faculty and staff planted several, carefully-selected trees on Roanoke's Elizabeth Campus earlier in April. This tree planting effort was organized by students in the environmental studies program and students from two Roanoke organizations-RC Sustain and Earthbound.

Elizabeth Campus is also the home of a small fruit orchard, which includes two celebrity apple varieties, the Johnny Appleseed tree and Isaac Newton's Gravity apple trees.

Even though the original Bittle Tree will soon be gone, its legacy will live on at Roanoke. More than a decade ago, Dr. Jon Cawley, an environmental science professor at Roanoke, hand collected and planted about 350 seeds from the Bittle Tree, which resulted in the growth of 15 new seedlings or "Baby Bittles." Three of these Baby Bittles were planted on Roanoke's campus and two were donated to the Christiansburg Arboretum in 2001. Cawley's tree planting efforts were highlighted in an article in The New York Times in 2003.

The Bittle Tree is the last of a series of trees that Roanoke's founding president planted in 1855. Three recent college presidents have planted seedlings grown from the Bittle Tree. Dr. David Gring planted the first in 2001, Dr. Sabine O'Hara planted the second and President Michael Maxey planted one last year.

Many Roanoke alumni have graduated beneath the canopy of the Bittle Tree and other large trees on Roanoke's majestic John R. Turbyfill Quadrangle. If you have pictures of yourself at the Bittle Tree, your wedding picture or other family picture featuring the Bittle Tree, please send it to for the Bittle photo gallery.

The College has already received a number of suggestions for use of the wood once the tree is removed. Once the wood is recovered, the college will evaluate the ideas and suggestions to determine how to use the wood available. If you have ideas for a way to use the Bittle Tree wood in a symbolic way, please email your suggestion to

"The [Baby Bittles] will serve as reminders of our majestic, sheltering Bittle, and how we are part of a tradition and an institution that has a rich history and a growing future," said President Michael Maxey in a recent email to the campus community. "I look forward to watching its three seedlings grow into tall, mature trees much in the same way that we watch our students grow into alumni who influence the world."