Texas is well known for its tall tales and legends. East Texas is well known for its timber.
Tyler has both in a single place: on the lawn of City Hall.
A tall ginkgo tree on the lawn may not stand out too much from the surrounding foliage, but its history stood out enough for the Texas Forest Service to add it to the Famous Trees of Texas registry, which catalogues more than 80 trees with deep roots.
"One of the real joys for people in Texas is to visit one of these trees," said Pete Smith, a forester with the service who maintains the Famous Trees registry.
The Hubbard Ginkgo, as it's been branded by the service, arrived in Texas in the late 1880s, brought here from China by Ambassador Richard Bennett Hubbard. According to the registry, Hubbard planted one of the same trees on the lawn of the governor's mansion in Austin. The other was given to Col. John Brown, whose home once occupied the place where city hall now stands, at 212 N. Bonner Ave., according to Texas Forest Service website.
Smith said the family of trees the Hubbard Ginkgo belongs to, known as ginkgo biloba, was for some time thought to be extinct, until they were rediscovered in China.
"The tree, which is considered sacred in Japan, was introduced from China by Buddhist priests and was planted around their temples," reads the tree's description on the registry's website.
The ginkgo biloba is no longer a rare species of tree, Smith said, as it's now commonly used in landscaping.
More than 120 years have passed since Brown planted the ginkgo in his yard. The tree has grown into a tower, marred only by a long scar left by lightening. A small bronze colored plaque is a nod to its roots back when Tyler was still young.
What makes the Hubbard tree, and all the other trees on the registry, noteworthy is its age and how the world has changed around it, he said.
"The purpose of the whole program back in 1969 as it was written is that these trees were witness to the really exciting events of Texas frontier history," he said. "We can't even conceive of Texas frontier history and these trees are a reminder of where we come from as Texans."
And in a world increasingly wrapped in cement and chrome, it's even more important for Texans to work to preserve trees, he said.
"The land produced the wealth of this state and the families that benefitted and worked hard, from frontier days on, have benefitted from the productivity of the land that we have," he said. "There's a cultural connection to that value."
As cities and human populations continue to expand, he said people leave less space for towering natural monuments like the Hubbard Ginkgo to grow, which disconnects people from the land that's driven Texas to become what it is today, he said.
"Some of these trees point us back toward the land," he said. "(It's important) we don't discount the value of our wild lands or of these trees."