Skip to main content
Skip to main menu


Eva Thompson Thornton Memorial Garden Walk

photo of garden

Welcome to the Eva Thompson Thornton Memorial Garden walk where you will meet some interesting trees from around the world. This 30 minute self-guided walk begins and ends at the stone marker in the center of the garden. Please take time to read the plaque on the stone marker. It tells how this arboretum came to be.

himalaya cedar1. Himalaya cedar (Cedrus deodara)

This true cedar grows wild on slopes of the Himalaya mountains in India, but it will thrive when planted here. How could such a mountain tree survive the hot, humid climate of the deep South? The answer is our latitude. If you draw a line eastward across the globe from north Georgia, it will hit India right where the Himalaya cedar grows. This means the two climates share some important features that strongly influence plant growth, like day length and seasonal patterns. The Himalaya cedar also likes places with quartz rock soils and moist air, conditions that also exist here in Georgia.   

caucasian fir2. Caucasian fir (Abies nordmannii)

 Like a riddle? This native (wild growing) Georgia tree has never grown wild in our state. Did you guess this tree is a native of the Russian state of Georgia? That's right, Caucasian fir grows wild in the Caucasus mountains of Russian Georgia where it was discovered by botanist Alexander Von Nordmann and introduced to the Western world in 1838. Its perfect Christmas tree form and hardiness make it a popular ornamental (tree in lawns and gardens.) It can, however, grow quite large. A specimen planted long ago on the Powerscourt Estate in Ireland is now 134 feet tall and 4 feet in diameter.    

china-fir3. China-fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata)

You may have noticed the trees we've seen so far are evergreen conifers, meaning cone- bearing trees that stay green year-round. Evergreens are the waste-not-want-not members of the tree world. They hold onto their leaves for several years, saving the energy and nutrients otherwise required to make new ones. This allows them to grow in nutrient-poor soils. The wax-coated needle-like leaves conserve moisture allowing them to grow in places too dry for other trees. By keeping their leaves year-round evergreens can take advantage of winter warm spells and continue to make food (photosynthesize) when other trees are dormant.

In contrast, trees that lose their leaves each autumn (deciduous trees) are the easy-come-easy-go members of the forest, quickly making a full set of leaves each spring only to cast them off each autumn. Both tree strategies have proven successful in the natural world, providing us with beautiful color and variety in the process.

This tree, the China-fir is a waste-not-want-not tree found growing wild only in the mountains of south and central China, where it is widely harvested for lumber.    

incense cedar4. Incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens)

Aromatic foliage and wood give this tree its name. Feel free to scratch and sniff. Incense cedar comes from the Sierra Nevada mountains of California where it often grows along with the Giant Sequoia, the world's largest tree. Chances are you have a sample of incense cedar wood in your home, maybe even in your pocket right now---a pencil. Large specimens of the Eastern red cedar, the very best tree for pencils, became scarce in the early 1900's. When pencil makers searched for a new pencil tree they found Incense cedar. Its wood is soft, aromatic, and easy to machine. It is also large, abundant, and is carefully cut to provide the greatest possible number of pencils per tree.    

witch hazel5. Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Miss Eva would have had a bottle of witch hazel extract in her medicine cabinet. Maybe you do too. This old-time remedy made from the tree's leaves, twigs, and bark was rubbed on bruises and sprains by generations of folks including Native Americans. In olden days too, a "Y" shaped witch hazel branch was the favorite tool used by well diggers to locate underground water. The "witch" in this tree's name is really a misspelling of the old English word "wych" meaning a pliable branch, and so it is.    

arbor-vitae6. Chinese arbor-vitae (Thuja orientalis)

Meet a tree cultivated since ancient times. Originally native to China and Korea the Chinese arborvitae was introduced to Europe as an ornamental in 1752. Got warts, impetigo, or mange? Oil from arbor-vitae twigs and cones can be used to treat these conditions because it contains strong antimicrobial properties.

If you would like to see this tree's North American cousin look directly behind you and meet the Northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis.)

See any family resemblance? It has the same healing properties as Chinese arbor-vitae. In fact, cedarleaf oil from this tree is a major ingrediant in Vick's Vaporub. In the early 1500's, French explorers to North America were cured of scurvy by tea made from Northern white cedar leaves given to them by Native Americans. King Francis I of France promptly named it the arbor-vitae or "tree of life" in honor of the occasion. Since that time the name has been used for both of these members of the Thuja group.

sawtooth oak7. Sawtooth oak (Quercus acutissima)

Can you guess how this tree got its name? It is originally from Asia, but has been widely planted in many countries as an ornamental shade tree. Unlike other oaks the sawtooth grows fast, producing acorns at an early age. This makes it an ideal tree for improving wildlife habitat. Humans, too, have eaten its acorns. After World War II hungry Japanese citizens survived on sawtooth oak acorns gathered from the ornamental trees planted along their city streets. Further back, in 1620 the Pilgrims found baskets of roasted white oak acorns that American Indians had hidden in the ground. Even further back, oak acorns were a staple in the diet of the Pilgrims' ancient European ancestors.    

over cup oak8. Overcup oak (Quercus lyrata)

Oak trees just might be the most versatile group of trees in the world's temperate (cool) forests where they usually dominate the forest canopy. While most oaks prefer moist, well drained soils, several grow well on very dry sites, and a few like this one prefer to have their roots in river swamps. The many kinds of oaks are divided into two main groups, white oaks and red oaks. White oak leaves have rounded leaf sections (lobes). Red oaks have pointed leaf sections usually tipped by a sharp prickle.    
This is easy to remember because white men had blunt bullets, red men had pointed prickly arrows. It's silly, but it works. Which group does overcup belong to? Find a leaf on the tree or on the ground and check out those lobes.

By the way, there is an oak tree named for our state and another named for our state's founder near this spot.

red buckeye9. Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

The red buckeye grows wild in the forests of south Georgia and north Florida. Its showy red flowers attract hummingbirds, and it is frequently planted in yards for this reason. The large smooth seeds looked like deer eyes to early settlers who carried them in their pockets to ward off rheumatism. Local farm boys carried buckeyes for good luck and enjoyed their color and smoothness.

Both bark and seeds contain aesculin a poison strong enough to kill if eaten. American Indians exploited this knowledge by dropping crushed buckeye seeds into streams to kill fish. Cooking the fish removed the poison and provided an easily acquired dinner.

black walnut10. Black walnut (Juglans nigra)

 You are looking at the finest cabinet wood in North America. No other North American wood saws, sands, or stains as well as black walnut. The wood's shock absorbing properties provide the best gunstocks available. It's no wonder in 1971 one large black walnut tree sold for $12,600.00.

The squirrels, deer, and bear who relish the large nuts know nothing of all this, nor do they care.    

magnolia11. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Miss Eva loved this tree. Her yard at the old Thompson Mill home place was often perfumed by its large showy white flowers, symbolic of the Old South to many people. It is true that most North American members of the magnolia family grow in the Southern United States. Notable members of the magnolia family include the tulip poplar, tallest and most long-lived tree east of the Mississippi river, the yellow cucumber tree, named after a garden vegetable, and the bigleaf magnolia, whose 30-inch leaves are the largest simple leaves of any tree in North America.    

juniper12. Common juniper (Juniperus communis)

This tree grows wild everywhere. It is the only tree in the world native to North America, Europe, and Asia. The common juniper's evergreen habit and column-like shape make it an excellent ornamental tree. Touch it, and you will know why it also makes a good hedge!

The word juniper comes from the French word, "genevrier," the name for both this tree and the drink made from its berries?gin.    

european white birch13. European white birch (Betula pendula)

This interesting tree reminds us of the purpose of an arboretum. Like many of the trees here, the European white birch cannot be found growing wild in our forests or even planted as an ornamental in our lawns. Its unique beauty is brought to you from a continent away and maintained in this place specifically dedicated to providing a collection of unique and interesting trees for the enjoyment and education of everyone.    

sugar maple14. Sugar maple (Acer Saccharum)

From this tree we get both outstanding pancake syrup and fall colors. Could the two be related? Yes. In the Northeast U.S., where sugar maple trees are abundant the sap is collected in early spring and boiled down to make maple syrup. Although it takes 32 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup, as sap goes, sugar maple sap has a very high sugar concentration. In the fall the same high sugar concentration is trapped in the leaves when a warm sunny day is followed by a cool crisp night The trapped sugar breaks down giving rise to the reds and purples that mix with existing yellow and orange pigments to produce the awe-inspiring autumn display.    

We hope you enjoyed the Eva Thompson Thornton Memorial Garden walk. Please visit again some time.

Support Warnell

We appreciate your financial support. Your gift is important to us and helps support critical opportunities for students and faculty alike, including lectures, travel support, and any number of educational events that augment the classroom experience. Click here to learn more about giving.