Indiana Fun Fact – A Tree Has Been Growing on This Courthouse Roof for 140+ Years
Welcome back to another edition of Indiana Fun Facts where I share with you fun, unique, or interesting tidbits I discover about the state we call home. Today's fact certainly falls into the unique category. Let's take a trip to the southeast part of the state to the town of Greensburg, roughly halfway between Indianapolis and Cincinnati, Ohio off Interstate 74, which has made a name for itself thanks to a tree growing out of the roof of its courthouse and has been since the 1870s.
Before we dive in, I should note the tree that's there today is not the same one that sprouted 140-some years ago. However, it is essentially a descendant of the original. Lost already? Don't be. The explanation is actually pretty simple. Well, as simple as a tree growing out of the roof of a courthouse can be.
According to the Decatur County website, citing a 1997 article published on the Greensburgh Chamber of Commerce website, eagle-eyed residents first noticed a small sapling growing from the roof in the early 1870s. As the years passed, the sapling continued to grow. County government officials became concerned the tree could do some major damage to the roof as it continued to grow, so they hired someone to climb the outside of the tower to get a better look. What they found was not just one tree, but a few others beginning to grow as well. While the article doesn't specify, I assume this individual found the tree wasn't causing any structural damage and left both the original tree along with another sapling to grow before making his way back down to the ground.
An unspecified number of years later the tree died, but another had begun to grow in a different spot on the roof, followed by two more which remain there to this day.
How the seeds found their way 115 feet off the ground remains a mystery to this day. One popular theory shared by one-time Decatur County Commissioner Rick Nobbe on an October 2019 episode of the Beyond the Tree Tower podcast is that birds carried the seeds to the roof and left them behind (they're notoriously messy eaters in my opinion) which makes total sense to me. What doesn't make sense is how the trees have managed to survive for as long as they have. I'm no botanist, but last time I checked, all plants need soil to grow. The answer to that question is as mysterious as to how the seeds got there in the first place. According to Nobbe, and I'm paraphrasing here, the way the tower is built, there is an internal brick structure under the decorative white outer structure you see in the photo above. There's enough of a gap between the two that collects silt and other materials carried by the weather that has provided the nutrients the tree has needed to survive all these years.
A Glimpse from Inside
Back in 2015, WTHR-TV reporter, Kevin Rader along with a camera person were given permission to climb the tower from the inside to get a look at the infamous tree from the bottom up. What I imagine they expected to fine, like I would expect to find if I were to make the same trip, was a 100-plus-year-old root system consuming a large part of the interior of the tower's peak. What they found was the complete opposite.
A Claim to Fame
Regardless of how the tree got there and how it managed to not only thrive but survive all these years, it has been a claim to fame for the city of Greensburg. It was featured on an episode of the old Ripley's Believe or Not TV show and draws thousands of visitors each year looking to see this freak of nature with their own eyes. The city has even nicknamed itself "Tree City" many years ago.
More Fun Facts
If you enjoyed this little nugget of knowledge, be sure to check out the other Indiana fun facts I've recently discovered:
- Indiana Fun Fact - Tomato Juice was Invented in French Lick
- Did You Know the First Electric Streetlight in America was Installed in Indiana?
[Sources: Decatur County / Visit Greensburg]
SEE MORE: 11 Unique Attractions You'll Only Find in Indiana