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Usually when visitors flock to a historic or sacred site or tourist trap, they want something to commemorate the experience.

Maybe a T-shirt, shot glass, decorative spoon.

Hilda Barnes of Pisgah scooped up something insignificant from the 9/11 Memorial in New York City that could grow to be giants in time.

Barnes, who visited New York City with husband, Cecil, and grown daughters, Gloria and Kim, in September, decided to go sightseeing.

Her top stop was TJ Maxx. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous, but there was something about shopping at her favorite store when it’s in the heart of the Big Apple.

Later, the Barnes family split up to take in more sites. Cecil and Kim headed to the Statue of Liberty, and Barnes and Gloria lit out for the 9/11 Memorial, where the World Trade Center once stood. Gloria knew someone who died in the towers and wanted to pay her respects.

While there, Barnes noticed the area littered with acorns.

A man who worked at the site encouraged her to take some home and plant them. They’ll grow, he promised.

He even gave her his business card in case she needed further advice.

The Greek proverb “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in,” could be applied to the exchange.

The man, Ronaldo Vega, was the director of design of the memorial, and often tries to get visitors to take home the acorns and actually plant them.

“Most people put them in their pocket, and they have a rattle at the end of the year because they don’t plant them,” Vega said. “It’s unusual for someone to take me at my word and plant them.”

“They just fascinated me,” said Barnes, who, upon returning home to Pisgah, grabbed a pot and planted the acorns, setting them on a table near a window.

Then, she waited.

“September, October, November ... nothing,” she said.

Then, in December, she started to see some growth. Sprouts poked through the dirt, and she called Vega to inform him of the development.

Looking after plant life is a new experience for Barnes. While Cecil has won beautification awards for his landscaping, Barnes readily admits she’s not an “outdoors person.”

But the acorns are her project. Cecil — other than shellacking the tops of the acorns to keep as mementos — has been hands-off on the whole thing.

“This is her project,” he said.

Barnes plans to plant some near her home and give the others away to her daughters and friends who would appreciate them.

According to the 9/11 Memorial website, swamp white oaks were selected to dot the site because of their durability, leaf color — green to amber to sometimes pink — and straightness.

They were harvested within 500 miles of the site, from nurseries in Pennsylvania and Maryland, areas also affected by the terrorist attacks.

The trees can grow to reach to 60 feet and will not be identical, growing at different heights and changing leaves at different times, a physical reminder that they are living individuals, according to the site.

“The acorns are a bit of a problem for us,” Vega admitted. “We push them into the ivy beds.”

But if they are planted, they are very special and an investment, he said. School children who stop by the site have taken some acorns back to the classroom to foster them, and Vega has “heard rumors” of others growing them, but no one has kept him up-to-date as much as Barnes, who is planning to visit New York again in April with her family.

“It’s more than kind of cool,” Vega said. “It’s very interesting.”

staylor@somdnews.com