Originally a wooded wilderness, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted removed 400 trees when he designed the U.S. Capitol Grounds in 1874. His design was meant to create a park like setting that would focus attention on the great Capitol Building.
Trees were heavily used in Olmsted's design to both frame the building and provide shade for visitors and his design still drives all landscaping decisions on the grounds today, including the placement and selection of trees. Sixty-five of the trees planted during Olmsted's original design remain today.
There are currently about 890 trees surrounding the immediate Capitol Building on Capitol Square and more than 4,300 trees throughout the entire 274-acre Capitol Grounds.
Olmsted's design of the Capitol Grounds built a natural landscape, as opposed to focusing on individual plants or formal gardens. At the U.S. Capitol today, this design is kept intact through tree plantings arranged in natural-looking groups. The placement of the largest trees is designed to hide views of the Capitol except from specific angles that show off the building's architecture at its most majestic and inspiring vantage point. Olmsted used large, native trees for prominent entrance avenues and walkways. Deciduous species, such as elms, lindens, buckeyes and oaks, were commonly chosen – and are still the most prevalent species on the grounds. Evergreens are used infrequently, but dominate the plantings at the base of the West Terrace of the Capitol.
Gifted, Memorial and Commemorative Trees
Today, as you walk the grounds, Olmsted's original design is evident all around. However, you may notice a few additions of some exotic trees from across the world. These trees have been introduced over time as gifts, such as the cherry trees given by Japan in 1912, and as memorial or commemorative trees. These special trees serve as a vehicle for experiencing a bit of American history. Below is a sample of these types of trees.
- 9/11 Anniversary Tree
- Anne Frank Tree
- Arbor Day Founder Tree (J. Sterling Morton)
- Chief Sequoyah Tree
- Emmett Till Tree
- Liberty Tree
- Lady Bird Johnson Tree
- People of Connecticut Tree (Charter Oak)
- Speaker Joe Cannon Tree
- Sullivan Brothers Trees
- U.S. Capitol Police End of Watch Tree (for Officer Jacob J. Chestnut and Detective John M. Gibson)
- Wangari Maathai Tree
Additional special trees can be found via the map below.