Heritage Trees come in all shapes and sizes, but what binds them together is that they all have a story to tell. From oak groves that predate white settlement to a Douglas fir that grew from a seed that orbited the moon, Heritage Trees bring history to life. Oregon Heritage Trees are nominated by members of the public and then researched by a team of experts. Those chosen are significant in some way, and there is a plaque in front of each one explaining why it has this designation.

Salem is lucky to have some amazing Heritage Trees that tell many different stories about Marion County and its history. Some heritage trees are familiar to anyone living in Salem, like the Waldo tree or the oak grove at the State Fairgrounds. Others are more hidden but definitely worth checking out.

Waldo Park Tree

605 Summer Street NE, Salem

Heritage Trees of Salem
The giant sequoia at Waldo Park, Salem’s tiniest park. Photo credit: Andrew Parodi

For many people in Salem, the giant sequoia at Waldo Park is the giant historic tree that comes to mind. It is situated in the tiniest park in Salem (at .005 acres), consisting of the tree and two benches. The tree is 82 feet high, towering over the trees around it.

Judge William Waldo bought the sequoia seed, planted it in 1872, and remained very protective of the tree throughout his life. When he planted it, his property was outside of city limits, even though today it’s situated two blocks from the capitol mall and just across the street from the popular Salem Saturday Market. As Salem grew, Waldo’s property became vital to the new system of roads being laid. He died in 1911, and even then, the city found the redwood in the way of their road projects. Yet, over and over, people and groups stepped in to save the tree.

In 1936, the American War Mothers successfully got the tree and a small piece of land surrounding it to be declared a public park. Because of its location jutting out into Summer Street, the tree would have been cut long ago if not for its protection as a park.

Another amazing giant sequoia and Heritage Tree in Marion County, the Benedictine Sisters Sequoia, is at the Benedictine Queen of Angels Monastery at Mt. Angel, planted by Sister Protasia Schindler in 1893.

Heritage Trees of Salem
The Willamette University Star Trees, planted by the class of 1942. Photo credit: M. O. Stevens

Star Trees at Willamette University

900 State Street, Salem

The tallest giant sequoias on any campus in the United States, Willamette University’s Star Trees sit across from the Capitol at the edge of the Willamette campus. The trees were presented to the university as a centennial gift by the class of 1942. Planted together, the five trees are situated so that they outline the sky in a star shape when standing in the center of the circle. During the holidays, the 160-foot-tall trees are strung with lights, and the Salem community is invited to a tree lighting.

Governor McCall Maple and The Moon Tree

155 Waverley Street NE
State Capitol State Park, Salem

Not all Heritage Trees are gigantic trees planted long ago – some are designated Heritage Trees because of the story behind their planting. Just west of the Capitol, in the Willson Park section of the State Capitol State Park, is the Moon Tree. A Rocky Mountain Douglas Fir, the tree is significant because its seed was taken into space and orbited the moon. Stuart Roosa, the astronaut who brought the seeds into orbit, had worked as a smoke jumper in Oregon and wanted to ensure some of the seeds ended up back in the state. Governor Bob Straub planted the Moon Tree in 1976.

The Governor McCall Maple, also at the State Capitol State Park, is significant because it was planted by Governor Tom McCall, an early environmental pioneer who was governor during the late 1960s and early 1970s. He planted the Greenleaf Japanese Maple on the state capitol grounds in 1973, and it was designated a Heritage Tree in 2009.

Heritage Trees of Salem
The oak grove at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

State Fairgrounds Oak Grove

17th Avenue NE and Silverton Road NE, Salem

The State Fairgrounds Oak Grove predates the arrival of white people into the Willamette Valley, and historians believe that the Kalapuya used this grove as one of their camping grounds. In 1862, the first Oregon State Fair was held, and the white pioneer families of the time came and camped in the oak grove. Visitors to the fair still park and camp under the same trees yearly during the county and state fairs.

Heritage Trees of Salem
The Signature Oak tree in the Oregon Garden in Silverton. Photo credit: Rick Obst

There are other Heritage Trees around Marion County, many of them tied to the pioneer history of our area. In Silverton, visitors can see the Riding Whip Tree just south of town on a family farm and the Signature Oak in the Oregon Garden. Pioneer history is on display in Aurora, and its Heritage Tree, the Aurora Colony Black Walnut, illustrates its German past. Finally, the Willamette Mission Cottonwood grove is one of the few remaining reminders of the first white settlement in the Salem area, led by Jason Lee in the 1830s. All of these beautiful and towering Heritage Trees help tell the story of the region through its plant history, giving us a way to experience the past in a new way.

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