Centennial Tree Program:

A community educational tree planting program started at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens by Henry Hughes, Vice President of Education


Seed trees over one hundred years old have been identified and selected, the most recent descendants of a forest thousands of years old. Centennial Trees, adapted to local soils, sites and climate, have a greater potential to live over a hundred years, well into the 22nd century, than trees not native to the sites.

Ecologically, locally sourced native trees are synchronized with Birmingham’s growing seasons and with the growth and development and movements of associated animal populations, from cicadas to salamanders to migratory birds. Aesthetically, native tree species are as iconic to the Birmingham landscape as its historic architecture.

The Centennial Tree Program is broadly applicable to many sites where the native forest has been lost, including: new housing developments on eroding slopes, tornado damaged communities, and the banks of urban waterways, such as Shades Creek and the Cahaba River, eroded by years of excessive storm water runoff.

The program is unique among botanical gardens nationally. The Birmingham model has application to virtually any cultural landscape that features mature native forest tree species, but that lacks natural seedling regeneration to support a future forest.


Structure and function of leaves and their roles in capturing the sun’s energy and carbon dioxide to sustain plant growth and development.


Henry Hughes is vice president of education at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. He teaches classes in urban forestry and plant-soil relationships and manages an environmental stewardship-education program for planting locally sourced native tree seedlings. He is particularly interested in riparian forest preservation and restoration. He studied forestry and botany at Sewanee: University of the South and plant and soil science at the University of Kentucky and Texas A&M University.  He is the volunteer executive director of the Friends of Shades Creek and is on the boards of the Cahaba River Society and the Alabama Rivers Alliance.