E.A. McIlhenny Oak
Bill and McIlhenny historian Shane Bernard at E.A. McIlhenny Oak
When Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens founded the Live Oak Society in 1934, he included 43 live oaks as the Society’s original members. These were familiar trees to Stephens, oaks that he had visited frequently and had personally measured to determine the 17 ft. girth minimum he set for Society membership—a size that he estimated would make the age of the tree greater than 100 years.
Of those original 43 inductee oaks, three were located at Avery Island, which for Dr. Stephens was a short day trip from his home in Lafayette. There were several sites within a short distance of Lafayette where Stephens and his wife Beverly would take friends and visiting dignitaries to introduce them to his favorite century-old oaks. These sites were part of what he called his “live oak tours.”
Through his friendship with Tabasco company president Edward Avery (“Ned”) McIlhenny, Dr. Stephens made Avery Island one of the stops on his oak tours. The Cleveland Oak (named after U.S. President Grover Cleveland) and the E.A. McIlhenny Oak were two of the original inductee trees for the Live Oak Society.
Grover Cleveland Oak, Jungle Gardens
Grover Cleveland Oak, view 2, showing scale with Cyndi
Ned McIlhenny was born on Avery Island in 1872 and traveled extensively during his life. He was an arctic explorer, a naturalist and conservationist. Growing up, he studied the plants and animals on Avery Island and in the surrounding salt marshes. In 1895 he founded Bird City, a private bird sanctuary for the once-endangered snowy egret.
In the 1920s, Ned found time from his business role as president of the McIlhenny Tabasco Company to transform his private Avery Island estate into Jungle Gardens. He converted the natural marshy landscape into lush gardens planted with exotic botanical specimens from around the world including more than four hundred varieties of camellias, over a hundred varieties of azaleas, fifty plus varieties of juniper, more than one thousand varieties of iris, and several species of Asian bamboo—all are plants that thrive in south Louisiana’s semitropical summers and mild winters.
Gradually Ned expanded the gardens until it reached its present size of more than 170 acres. In 1935, he opened Jungle Gardens to the public. Since then it has been a favorite tourist destination along with the Tabasco bottling factory on Avery Island.
Jungle Gardens today is home to several Live Oak Society member trees as well as one of the largest and most beautiful stands of mature live oaks in Louisiana. A few of the oaks that Dr. Stephens brought guests to see can still be found today at Avery Island’s Jungle Gardens.