Highland News Leader

Plant with presidential roots growing in Highland City Hall

The plant given to the city as a gift from Ed and Sylvia Harvey is stemmed from a trimming of a plant that sat in the Oval Office for 56 years. The plant is on display in the front office of city hall, 1115 Broadway in Highland.
The plant given to the city as a gift from Ed and Sylvia Harvey is stemmed from a trimming of a plant that sat in the Oval Office for 56 years. The plant is on display in the front office of city hall, 1115 Broadway in Highland. mbraa@bnd.com

It has produced oxygen breathed by 11 American presidents, and now it is added to the atmosphere at Highland City Hall.

Ed and Sylvia Harvey gifted the city an arrangement of Swedish ivy at the beginning of May. However, this greenery is unlike any other vine, because it grew from a trimming taken from a plant that has sat under a hand-painted portrait of President George Washington in the Oval Office since the John F. Kennedy era.

“If you did a DNA test on our plant and a DNA test on the one at the White House, they would match,” Ed said.

The Harveys have operated a business, St. Louis Coffee and Tea World at Scott Air Force Base since 1999. During their time on the base, the couple made many friends with the airmen and officers who would come in for a cup of joe, including Lt. Gen. Kathleen M. Gainey, who served as the base’s deputy commander of Transportation Command.

It was after Gainey retired in 2013, that the Harveys first acquired a cutting from the plant. Gainey heard that Ed had a green thumb and gifted the trimming to him from a plant that sat behind her desk at the base.

“She knew that I loved plants and knew that we would respect the plant,” Ed said.

Ed said that it is often customary that important people who have preformed a vital service for the president receive a cutting from the vine. Gainey received her own portion from someone who had worked as a presidential military aid, who, in turn, had requested a part of the plant for his spouse when he left the president’s service, according to Ed.

When they received the plant, the Harveys learned that it was gifted to President John F. Kenndey by a Swedish ambassador and has been sitting on the mantle inside the Oval Office ever since.

“So you can imagine everything that plant has heard and seen and been involved in over the years,” Ed said.

Ed, whose father, Dallas Harvey, was a Pearl Harbor survivor and his mother, Rita Harvey, was one of the first 2,000 women to join the Navy in World War II, has patriotism engraved in his bones. For three years, he and Sylvia have been tending their ivy, growing it into a lush and voluminous foliage. They have many different pots with parts of the plant scattered throughout their home and yard. One day, when Ed was talking to the Highland Joe Mayor, he decided to give the city its own part of the patriotic vine.

“We decided that a plant from the Oval Office in Washington, D.C., should have an honor spot at our ‘oval office’ in Highland,” Ed said.

Part of the plant is now a permanent resident of city hall.

“We’re just grateful that Ed and Sylvia are presenting this plant to the city,” said Michaelis.

The ivy is on display next to a copy of a 1984 TIME article, that has some of the plant’s history and a picture of the plant in the Oval Office. According to the TIME article, written in 1984 by Kurt Anderson, the ivy made its debut on the Oval Office mantle in 1961. Anderson wrote that the plant had extensive care, at least back in 1984, the ivy was watered at 7 a.m. every morning, given liquid fertilizer once a month, and received a misting every six weeks, with the occasional pruning.

As for anyone wanting their own cutting of the plant, Ed said he can only give the plant to people with just purposes, who promise not to sell cuttings from their plant, like others have done. He said the plant is fairly easy to take care of and does not need White House-level care. Once it is propagated into damp soil, the plant needs to be watered occasionally, and given plant food. Ed only had one tip: do not over water.

Anyone can view the plant and its history any time city hall is open.

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