WASHINGTON – The young American chestnut was already sitting in its hole in the ground and a fresh pile of dirt was waiting nearby when the president — wearing a business suit — strode out to throw on three shovelfuls and pronounce his Arbor Day (search) commemoration complete.
"We don't want to get carried away," laughed President Bush (search).
Despite the brevity of what the White House called a "ceremonial planting" on Friday, the presidential event was aimed at aiding a long effort to bring back the American chestnut. Once a dominant presence in the eastern United States, the graceful trees were virtually wiped out by blight starting at the turn of the 20th century. Now, after years of breeding, cloning and crossbreeding with other species, the Agriculture Department is ready to reintroduce disease-resistant chestnuts to eastern forests next year.
So the White House picked an American chestnut for Bush to plant on the mansion's grounds to mark National Arbor Day.
"This is our little part to help it come back," Bush told reporters. "Our message is to our fellow citizens: plant trees — it's good for the economy and it's good for the environment."
The president had a fair amount of help, both before and after the brief event.
"Ready to go? Alright, let's do it," Bush said to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns (search), also in dark suit.
Each man pitched spadefuls of dirt into the hole holding the green-leafed sapling — Bush mock-grunting at the effort, presidential dog Miss Beazley underfoot and Johanns only nearly missing the president's pants leg at one point. Bush then quickly called it a day and headed back inside the White House.
Several National Park Services workers moved in to finish the job. And now, an American chestnut fills the corner of the White House's North Lawn occupied by a 100-year-old tulip poplar until severe storm damage required its removal four years ago.
American Chestnut Foundation: http://www.acf.org
White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov