Bursting the age bubble   Robert Leverett
  Sep 11, 2006 07:39 PDT 

A short time ago, a huge northern red oak on the Smith College campus
was taken down because of limb rot. The tree presented a hazard to
people, cars, and two adjacent buildings. When standing the tree was
almost 17 feet in girth and a little over 90 feet in height. The big
tree had a plaque on it and was a veritable institution. It was thought
to be 300 years old or older. Somewhere along the way, I suspect that
someone equated its size with advanced age. I had thought that the
college possessed records on the tree that verified an advanced age.

Yesterday, I counted between 130 and 140 annual rings on the low stump
left behind. Based on blue markers used to tick off blocks of 5 years,
the discovery of a relatively young age must have been an embarrassment
to the folks on campus who were responsible for the stating that the
tree was advanced in age.

   The form of the tree, and in particular its bark patterns, did not
suggest great age. The tree, in fact, looked like a 130 to 150-year old
oak and that is exactly what it was. Once again, the mistake was made of
equating great size with great age.

   BTW, when Will Blozan saw the tree in July, he said that it didn't
look that old. And he was right - again. I feel a little disappointed in
myself that I didn't stand my ground when first seeing the tree and
believing it to be maybe 170 years old at most. Oh well.


Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society
Re: Bursting the age bubble   Monica Jakuc Leverett
  Sep 12, 2006 12:53 PDT 


Actually the tree was thought to be over 200 years old, the plaque
stating that it was around when the Constitution was signed! Still a
pretty bad mistake.....


Monica Jakuc Leverett
Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music
Re: Bursting the age bubble   Randy Brown
  Sep 13, 2006 19:34 PDT 

Interesting point of comparison. My Great Grand parents maintained
an semi-old growth woodlot that was logged by my grandparents when my
grandmother died in 1985.   The trees were in the 3'-4' diameter
range, a mixture of chinquipin oak, red oak, sugar maple with a few
white oaks, ash and walnuts. I counted a few of the largest stumps.   
The two biggest Red Oaks were 167, ~200 years old. While the oldest
chinquipin oak was ~373 years old ~3' in diameter and ~88' tall.   
What was interesting was ~10' core of the tree which is all it
managed in it's first century of life. Had to count the rings with a
razor blade.

Didn't get to the sugar maples quick enough too ring count any of
them. They got punky too fast.

Should have taken better data I suppose, but I was twelve at the
time. It's all kinda lost now, because the stumps are unreadably
rotten and most of the tops cut up for firewood.

A few interesting trees remain.
- A spindly ~2' diameter chinquipin oak the fellers flat out missed
(the red X lasted for 10 years). It sits rather forelornly at the
edge of the clearing that was once filled by perhaps six other large
trees (the 373 year old one included)
- A large 3' diameter white oak, that was passed over because of it's
crooked, knot laden trunk, but it has an impressive looking crown.
- And right beside it a red oak of similar size. It's base was very
hollow and it collapsed about five years ago.
- 3'+ dbh ash, hollow as a gun barrel with the top broken out.   The
top 20 or so feet of the tree is split lengthwise with a wide crack
you can see daylight through. It's been this way for at least 20
years, but sprouts from the former lower limbs soldier bravely on.   
In it's prime I'd guess the tree probably was among the tallest in
the woods.
- 2' dbh beech with my great grand-dad's initials on it, dated 1933.
- 3' dbh single-trunked basswood with an intact crown. This is the
largest basswood I've seen in the area with a full crown. (Most
basswoods, in the area I grew up experience a fairly virulent heart-
rot that cores them out in short order.   I watched one 1' dbh tree
get cored out over the course of maybe 10-15 years)    There also 3
other multi-trunk basswoods that have rotted up and crumbled, Even
so a new generation of poles is shooting up from the root system. I
hesitate to speculate how old those root systems must be, given
thiscould be at least the third generation trees.
- In my dads childhood he remembers the woods containing many large
elms. They all died out in the 1950's, except perhaps for 2. An
American elm and slippery elm, <2' dbh have defied the odds, even as
other elms of all ages have died all around them.   They grow within
100' of each other, and were canopy trees even before the logging. I
hesitate to say they are naturally resistant because there's another
woodlot I've watch elms die in on and off through the years and
seemingly pass over an elms of similar size (and a few smaller), only
inexplicably the last wave of disease in the last 2-3 years took them
all. It did get very dry 3 summer ago so perhaps that had something
to do with it.

RE: Bursting the age bubble   Steve Hewlett
  Nov 26, 2006 12:38 PST 

When I was a child the biggest elm in town (Hampton, N.H,) was taken
down in 1960. It was generally assumed to be 250-300 years old, with all
kinds of historical references to back up the various claims. A ring
count of the stump showed it to be 176 years old.

There is an oak in Haverhill, MA which is called the "Worshipping Oak".
The early settlers there held prayer meetings under the oak before their
meeting hall was built in 1648. The tree still stands but is declining
and approaching stag status. It no longer produces acorns. When it comes
down a ring count would be interesting.