Chinaberry drawn by Joseph Mason and the White-eyed vireo drawn by John James Audubon for Birds of America.
Chinaberry drawn by Joseph Mason and the White-eyed vireo drawn by John James Audubon for Birds of America.

John James Audubon explored the Texas coast in the spring and early summer of 1836. He noted dozens of different types of birds and provided rough counts. Among them is a “great number” of White-eyed vireos moving from south to north.

While living and working in New Orleans, Audubon notes that the birds start arriving on March 1 or sooner depending on the weather. His search in areas with such vegetation as briars, sumac, and evergreen bushes in “detached groves in abandoned fields” and similar habitat contains White-eyed vireos “so abundant, that it would be more difficult not to meet one, than to observe a dozen or more.”

Explorer John Kirk Townsend later notes the bird occurring along the Columbia River, and Audubon sees the bird during his travels into Labrador and Nova Scotia. Today the White-eyed vireo would be considered a very rare occurrence in the spring and summer, and in some cases present and singing the entire year, anywhere other than the southeastern United States and into Mexico.

The side of the house faces Lamboll St.
The front of the Thomas Lamboll House faces Lamboll St. in Charleston, South Carolina. The entrance to the bottom piazza and address is 19 King St.

Also once rare in the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, is the tree in which Audubon places the White-Eyed vireo. Chinaberry (Melia azedarach) is one of the very few plants that appears in Audubon’s Birds of America that is not native to North America. The person who likely introduced the “ornamental” tree to America lived at 19 King St. His name was Thomas Lamboll. The imposing, three-story house he built on King St. in 1737 included a garden that stretched all the way to the Ashley River. To reach the edge of the Ashley River today from 19 King St. is a two-block street walk.

The view of the Ashley River from Charleston's 19 King St.
To reach the Ashley River from Charleston’s 19 King Street is a walk of another two blocks.

A campaign for shaded streets and cleaner air prompted a law in 1764 that encouraged tree planting in Charleston. Trees were also desired to create a natural dividing line between the town’s streets and sidewalks. Rather than planting trees that were native to the area, such as the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), Live oak, or Cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto), residents preferred the faster growing Chinaberry that Thomas Lamboll made popular in the city.

Another tree that was planted extensively was the Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera). It too is fast growing and tolerates heat and harsh growing conditions around streets and roads. Chances are Lamboll was also the first to introduce Paper mulberry in North America. Although by the end of 1837, Charleston was practically denuded of Chinaberries, Paper mulberries, and all other trees.

In the spring of 1837 city officials wanted to re-construct the streets to conform better to the design and layout of the city’s drainage system. The streets needed to be convex with a gradual rise to the center. Existing drains and grates were to be replaced with new ones along the sides of the streets. To accomplish this required clearing all of the trees that had been planted to help separate the streets from the sidewalks. The public outcry from all of the lost trees left city officials anxious for a plan to replace them.

Charleston’s mayor John Schnierle consulted “B” for the best trees to plant. The strongest suspect for “B” is Reverend John Bachman. The reverend served as the minister of St. John’s Lutheran Church on Charleston’s Archdale Street for 56 years (1815-1874). He was also well known in Charleston for tending to his elaborate garden on Pinckney St. (now Rutledge Ave.) and for his knowledge of trees, plants, and birds.

“B” prepared a list of trees that he thought best for planting in Charleston. He split them between “objectionable” and “recommended.” The objectionable trees were Paper mulberry, Chinaberry, Carolina laurelcherry (Prunus caroliniana), Red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), American holly (Ilex opaca), “Wahoo” or Winged elm (Ulumus alata), Black locust (Robinia pseudoaccacia), Catalpa (Catalpa syringifolia), Southern magnolia, Live oak, pines, and all other evergreens. “B” favored deciduous trees for temperature control. “In our moist and warm climate we require shade in summer, but in winter our streets are benefitted by the continued effects of air and sun, and therefore in all cases I prefer deciduous to evergreen trees.”

The trees “B” recommended was the American elm (Ulmus americana), the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Water (Quercus aquatica) and Laurel (Q. laurifolia) oak, Box elder (Negundo accroides), White poplar (Populous alba), Eastern cottonwood (Populus angulata), Sycamore (Plantanus occidentalis), Redbay (Lauras carolinensis), Red maple (Acer rubrum), Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), Abyssinia (Albizia julibrissin), and French tamarisk (Tamarix gallica). The current scientific name for Redbay is Persea borbonia. “B” also listed Varnish tree but without a scientific name. Most Varnish trees are associated with mahogany and its high value for innumerable uses as ingredients for other materials or for shaping into other items or products.

A stroll today along King, Rutledge, Archdale, and the other older streets in Charleston would reveal that native trees such as the Live oak, Southern magnolia, and Cabbage palmetto have re-asserted themselves along with the Crape-myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). French botanist André Michaux was the first to grow Crape-myrtle in North America at a garden he maintained beginning in 1787 just north of downtown Charleston. Boeing’s jet airplanes are now where Michaux and his son François André once grew trees and plants and heard the kinds of birds that John James Audubon drew for Birds of America.