On Dec. 3, 1792, Revolutionary War Gen. William R. Davie and five other men were having a picnic. It was this meeting that would decide the location of the University, and it was this man for whom one of UNC’s many monuments would be named: the Davie Poplar.
The exact age of the Davie Poplar is unknown, but arborists believe it is around 300 years old. This is much longer than the usual lifespan of a tulip poplar. In addition to its long lifespan, the tree has survived an ice storm, a hurricane, two lightning strikes and, most recently, an attempted arson. Despite all of this, the tree is treated the same as all of the others residing in McCorkle Place.
“We don’t really pay it any special attention,” University arborist and forester Tom Bythell said. “What are we going to do to improve its environment?”
In 1873, the tree survived its first lightning strike. At that point, the tree was already referred to as the “Old Poplar” and had legend that if the tree falls, the University will fall. Kemp P. Battle’s “History of the University of North Carolina” described the strike in a book.
“The friends of the University were grieved, as if it were ominous of the fate of the University, but, although there was a rent through the bark at least from top to bottom, the noble tree survived the fiery attack,” the book said.