In this article from the 1878 publication of the Chapel Hill Ledger, locals of Chapel Hill are encouraged to plant fruit trees following the birth of their children.
The idea behind this was that the tree inherently became the property of the child. In the child’s infancy and childhood, the parents and extended family of the child cared for the tree as an extension of their care for the child. The tree was tended and cared for by the child’s family until the child was old enough and responsible enough to care for the tree on their own. Throughout the life of the child who received the tree, the successes they achieved in their life were thought to be connected to the health and prosperity of the fruit tree; the successes of each creating the other. There was also an intention that the fruit produced by the tree could be sold for profit and that this profit could then be used in the financial support of the child throughout his or her life. In this way, the prosperity of the tree directly supported the success of the child in their early life.
There is also mention, within the article, of the high quality of the soil in Chapel Hill for growing produce, or more specifically, fruit. The article claims that the climate would be able to support any kind of fruit, “even tropical.” The article goes on to assume that the experience of growing and having trees will be a simple and enjoyable pastime and will simply lead to a family soon having an entire orchard with “no apparent labor.” The author of the article continues to claim that the ownership of and caring for a tree was a blessing and an honorable experience, especially in the southern states where agriculture is typically made up of low lying and bush-like plants, like tobacco and cotton. Because of the differences in fruit trees and traditional North Carolina crops, this push in the growth of fruit trees could be signifying a shift in the agricultural norms of the region.
We can see the effects of this belief here on UNC’s campus embodied in the “Davie Poplar.” The estranged poplar tree stands in the north quad along with the Old Well and other landmarks of our campus. This is a tree rumored to have been planted when the school first opened and was named after one of the university’s first students. The tree is said to be tied to the campus in the same way that the trees were believed to be connected to their owners, providing them with prolonged successes. The story promises that as long as the Davie Poplar, in one way or another, stands in the heart of campus that the university will prosper.