Move over, Johnny Appleseed

A mother’s love of Japanese maple trees has propagated roots far and wide.

Main Line Today (May, 2020)

By Michael T. Dolan

Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman roamed throughout Pennsylvania and the Midwest some 200 years ago, planting nurseries of apple trees and spreading good will along the way. His legacy lives on in American folklore, the facts and fictions of his life blending together to create a story that inspires still today.

Lesser known is a modern-day Chapman known as Marion Maple Tree. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she traveled to Pennsylvania over 50 years ago and began to set her roots – and her maple trees – here in the land of William Penn. I count myself blessed to be a product of those roots, for I know Marion Maple Tree by another name.


And every time I see a red maple tree, I can’t help but think of the Japanese maples that grew at my childhood home, and wonder if perhaps they’re related.

My mother was born with a love of gardening, a love she inherited from her own mother. Coming out of hibernation in late March, she would slowly begin to rake out flower beds and prepare for May plantings. And when May and its sunshine rolled around, in the flowers went. Potted hyacinth and lilies leftover from Easter. Impatiens. Geraniums. Petunias. They all joined together to create a colorful canvas that would brighten our yard all summer long.

Well, mostly. The problem is, my mother also raised seven sons. Gardening, a gaggle of boys, and a yard in Drexel Hill were often incompatible with one another. Something had to give, and often the flowers lost out. Rhododendron seed pods were plucked for ammo in games of war. Roses were beheaded by fouled off Wiffle balls. Impatiens were trampled, as was our mother’s own patience.

Which is why, I think, she loved her Japanese maple trees so much. They simply went about their business without care, dropping seeds that rooted into countless saplings each summer. Our mother would be careful to weed around each sapling, letting each grow until she either found a home for it or it became so large that she just let it be, another maple tree to join the yard.

Over the years, those saplings have set roots far and wide. When my wife and I purchased our first home almost 20 years ago, one of Marion Maple Tree’s saplings made its way to our front yard. While we don’t live there anymore, that maple tree certainly does. Roots dug deep, it stretches over 20 feet tall today. And when we moved to our current home, another sapling was transplanted from Marion’s Drexel Hill nursery. That tree is quickly reaching the height of its sibling from our first home.

My brothers, those same boys who helped trample our mother’s hydrangea bushes throughout our childhood, have all been gifted saplings over the years. Trees planted, roots set.

Our mother moved from her Drexel Hill home this past year after 46 years, but not before digging up a rather largish sapling which could more aptly be called a tree. It has taken root at her new home, where Marion Maple Tree’s work can continue for years to come.

After all, the family tree continues to grow.


  1. That was beautiful Mike, and it brought tears to my eyes. Since Marion and I have been best friends since we were five years old, I can’t help but wonder if the original maple trees came from my Grandmother Costello’s yard, which my parents would have shared with Marion’s parents in D.C., and the maple trees still grow here in Maryland. We will likely never know, but just a thought.

    Move Over Johnny Appleseed is a wonderful Mother’s Day gift to your wonderful mother. Thanks for sharing.

    Love, Peggy (Costello) McKenzie

  2. Thank you Mike! I’ve known Marion and Peggy since 1st grade and love this tribute to your mom! I remember the maple trees around the DC area and love that Marion nurtured so many over the years. Although, how she did that with 7 sons is beyond my comprehension! LOL. Please give your mom a hello from me and a big Happy Mother’s Day greeting!

    My love to your family,

    Ellen (Carleton) Michaud

  3. Thanks for a beautiful story. Simply sweet on this special weekend for “Mom’s”. I always enjoy your stories!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *