Oldest Oaks & Wye Oak, MD   wad-@comcast.net
  Sep 02, 2005 12:34 PDT 
Jess and Doug

Sounds like a sweet spot to vacation. I read your question about white oak age, and it made me think of the Wye oak that used to be in Md. It toppled in 2002. It was reported that it was 460 years old. I hope someone verified that when it was removed. 


  Highlands, North Carolina (matreial deleted)

The town of Highlands North Carolina sites atop a broad plateau only a
little over ten miles from the point where Georgia, South Carolina,
and North Carolina intersect....

The plateau's sandy soils and wet climate allow some tree species in
the area to achieve great longevity and others exceptional size... and 
on a small mountaintop near town white oaks reach 450 years old, an
 exceptional age for the species...

On the same property, at the top of the hill, on the edge 
of the woods, by an old barn grows an old white oak. Hurricane Ivan
broke the top out of tree, and the owners had the trunk cut just above
the remaining large limb. At least, 424 rings are present at the cut.
The cut was made with a chainsaw, so some in particularly suppressed
areas were likely missed. Also, well over 30 rings occur in the first
inch of radius, so the time to reach the 11' height where the rings
were counted may have been substantial. Hence, the total age of the
oak may exceed 450 years. Several other smaller, but still obviously
old, white oaks grow in a narrow strip of woods nearby.

Does anyone know of a good reference for the oldest confirmed age of
white oak? The oldest I have heard of is 450 years for a tree that
grew about five miles west of Highlands. Would this site be of
interest to any dendrochronologists?

Jess & Doug Riddle


Re: Oldest Oaks & Wye Oak, MD   Edward Frank
  Sep 02, 2005 20:27 PDT 


I have been looking for information on the Wye Oak and have not found any
counted date for the tree. The Old List has several white oaks listed:


Quercus alba 407 XD   Warren County Iowa Duvick and Blasing 1983
Quercus alba 373 XD DYS08 Belmont County,Ohio Rubino and McCarthy 2000
Quercus alba 289 XD HT50 Pisgah NF, North Carolina J.Speer 2001

I have contacted some agencies to see if they actually have an account of
the age of the Wye Oak.

Ed Frank
Re: Highlands NC   Jess Riddle
  Sep 03, 2005 07:10 PDT 
Scott and Ed,

The Wye Oak was certainly not a young tree given that it was already
huge by 1940, but I think the approximately 450 year age was just a
guess. The tree was largely hollow at the base, so a full ring count
could not be conducted. Still, a ring count of one of the enormous
low limbs or a higher section of the trunk would provide useful

Thanks for checking the old list too. I checked it before writing to
make sure I wasn't completely off base.

I also heard back a little more about that 450 year age I cited.
Apparently, that cross section was actually counted as 420, then
recounted at 390. Other trees at the site did not prove as old when

Re: Highlands NC   ad-@ldeo.columbia.edu
  Sep 06, 2005 05:23 PDT 
Dear Jess et al.,

The information Jess dug up is correct. I included this population of white
oak in my dissertation. As I was winding down my fieldwork I was was trying to
include all of the reportedv400+ yr old white and chestnut oak data available
in the area bound by AL, MI, and NY. I heard about this 400-500 year old white
oak in NC and bolted down last summer get a sample of this tree, possibly the
oldest in the east. On this trip I also sampled Savage Mtn in western MD
because of a report discussing 400+ yr old chestnut oaks.

Anyhow, the oldest white oak on Lil' Scaly Mountain in Highlands, NC was 386
years old. I say 'was' because this tree was chosen for removal when they were
decided to build a new building; there is an 80 yr old camp/retreat center in
this 'old-growth' forest. With help, 20 other white oaks on the top of this
mountain were cored. The oldest living white oak is 313 years old. All of these
these ages are crossdated. There is no extrapolation for the time to reach
coring height. Both of these samples, esp. the one cut down, included pith.

There could be older trees on the steep slope just below the mountain top. We
didn't have time to explore that area.

Interestingly, this population is one of the few whose growth is not limited
by drought. Drought is the dominant limiter of radial growth of the species
studied to date in the eastern US; the exception being Atlantic white cedar. As
Jess alluded to, this location gets plenty of rain and is cool. The only other
population Ed Cook found lacking drought stress like the Highlands population
is the Linville Gorge white oak population.

As for the oldest oaks in the east. Checking all the sources I could (Calling
Dave Stahle, Dave Orwig, going through the modern tree-ring analysis lit), the
oldest oak is a white oak Ed Cook cored in 1983 along the Blue Ridge Parkway in
central VA. This sample was too suppressed for his work (drought reconstruction)
and had been sitting in our lab undated for almost 20 years. I spent more than a
day trying too crossdate this sample. It was very suppressed for > 200 years.
The inner ring date is 1519 making this tree 464 years when cored. We don't
know if this tree is still alive.

There are several other white oaks in Ed's collection 420+ years of age. The
second oldest white oak in Ed's collection was 433 yrs old in the early-1980s.

The oldest chestnut oaks, btw, are 427 years old; 1 in SE PA, 1 in N NJ. I
visited both of these trees in July 2005, so these trees are now 430 years old.
Interestingly, these are many, 7-10, chestnut oaks along the northern
Appalachian Mountains 420+ years old.

I deleted Ed Frank's OLDLIST email by accident, so I'm not sure what was
discussed. I will submit these data to OLDLIST soon to update oldest trees in
the east. Ed Cook has plenty of them.

BTW, I completed my dissertation in early July and started teaching in the
dept. of biological sciences at Eastern Kentucky University in mid-August. Dr.
Bill Martin retired from the department, unfortunately, in June. It would have
been great to work with him. I'm not exactly replacing him, but I am currently
the purest plant ecologist in the department.

Hope this helps,
Re: Highlands NC   MICHAEL DAVIE
  Sep 06, 2005 17:37 PDT 

Neil (or anyone else),
Do you know if anyone has come up with a good reason why the white oaks in
these relatively temperate areas with high rainfall would grow so slowly for
so long? Meanwhile, the pines are rocketing above them. I assume it has to
do with the soils around there, they are very granular and acidic. Just
Re: Highlands NC   ad-@ldeo.columbia.edu
  Sep 07, 2005 16:22 PDT 

Hi Michael,

No, I'm not sure many know that these 2 populations of white oak are not
limited by drought let alone why this is so. It is a head scratcher.

Wye Oak   Edward Frank
  Sep 07, 2005 08:45 PDT 


I emailed people at Maryland DNR to enquire about the age of the Wye Oak
when it was removed. I eventually was directed to Dan Rider. For your
information the relevant correspondence is attached below. I will forward
any additional information that I might receive.

Ed Frank


Dear Mr. Rider,

My name is Edward Frank. I am with the Eastern Native Tree Society and I
am trying to find out if ring counts were done for the Wye Oak when it was
removed. Was it hollow and how many rings were actually counted? If you
can help me with this information it would be greatly appreciated.

Edward Frank

Mr. Frank,

I'm researching an answer for your question. Please don't be too
disappointed in getting a "blank stare" from me as a response to your
question -- I hired on with the Forest Service sometime after the Wye Oak
fell and much of the preliminary work was already completed. (My only
involvement with the Wye Oak was organizing the disposition effort.)

What I can tell you is that the tree was largely hollow. In fact, I
estimate that the first 40-feet or so of the tree was largely decayed. Only
about 4 or 6 inches of sound wood existed on the outer periphery of the
tree, making me marvel at how the tree withstood previous storms for as
long as it had.

I have forwarded your email to other staff who were much more involved with
the Wye Oak after it fell. I should be able to provide you with a more
informed response soon.


Daniel R. Rider
Associate Director
Forest Products Utilization & Marketing
Maryland DNR-Forest Service



To the best of my knowledge, no ring count was performed. As you know, the
rotten and jagged base of the tree was not that suitable for doing a ring
count. Maybe if we can get Stihl to help us saw some cookies, we can
answer this guy's question accurately - encourage him to send an email to
Stihl to ask them to support our request.... :) -- KJ


Mr. Frank -- see message below from our urban forester. ~Dan

Dan -
All I can relate is that Dr. Smiley from Bartlett Labs assessed the tree

on 11/13/90 and found 4.5" of sound wood @ 2' above ground level. Dr.
Fraedrich from Bartlett labs assessed the tree on Columbus Day 1997 and got
similar results.

Even if these rings were counted, to prorate this very small sample across 
the diameter of the tree (112" @ dbh) would provide very unreliable results
- a 'guesstimate' at best.


From: "Rider, Daniel"
To: "Edward Frank" 

Thanks for the additional info. The lower limbs are sound -- some of them are in excess of 5-ft diameter.

The reference to Stihl actually was to Stihl -- as in the chainsaw manufacturer. We have a project we'd like to carry out with the Wye Oak that requires a very long bar and we're hoping that Stihl can accommodate our need.


Ayton Nursery Sept 12, 2005
Mr. Frank,

No official ring count has been taken. The bottom 10 feet of the tree was too rotten and hollow to be able to count rings. Oxford University has a specialist that was interested in taking a core from the closest to ground level portion of the bole that was solid to get a fairly accurate age. They were trying to locate/build a suitable tool to take the sample. I have not heard from them in several months. 

Thank you,
Richard Garrett
Nursery Manager

Re: Highlands NC   jess.r-@gmail.com
  Sep 09, 2005 05:25 PDT 


Thanks for sharing all the fascinating details. I'm glad to know the
full story about the Little Scaly Mountain site, and see solid upper
known ages for white oak and chestnut oak. I also second Michael
Davie's curiosity about the lack of drought stress. Linville Gorge is
especially surprising since that area does not seem nearly as moist as
Highlands and the sandy soils, derived form the quartzite that
underlies much of the gorge, would not hold water well. Something
interesting to think about.

RE: Highlands NC   Will Blozan
  Sep 09, 2005 11:56 PDT 

I have cored a chestnut oak in the Greenbrier District of the Smokies (no
drought stress either) to 398 years back in 1993. I also counted 404 rings
~10 feet from the base on a fallen white oak in the western Smokies.

RE: Old Oaks & Wye Oak AVL OAK    Will Blozan
   Sep 11, 2005 06:43 PDT 

A ring count on the Wye Oak’s lower limbs would be darn close to actual age.
Why hasn’t anyone done it, or if they have, let us know the age?

Years ago Michael Davie and I visited and measured a huge white oak north of
Asheville, NC. It had been “aged” by someone with a short increment borer to
400+ years if I recall correctly (the tree was 25’ in girth). Mike and I,
having long worked with trees including pruning and cutting down white oaks,
were skeptical of that age, which was of course extrapolated from a short
section. Through the magnification of my rangefinder I counted ~125 rings on
the lowest branch that was removed about 12’ from the base. That limb
represented an original limb, indicating the tree was far less than 400
years old. Of course, I could not see all the rings but the growth rings
were wide and vigorous. That tree was happy!

Open-grown white oaks grow very fast, reaching over 15’ cbh in 90 years here
in Asheville. I suspect the growing conditions near the Wye Oak are far
better, but I still think the Wye Oak was an old tree. However, I personally
doubt much over 300. But admittedly, I know nothing of the site or how
rapidly white oaks grow up in MD. I just don’t see an open-grown white oak
being in an open-grown setting for 450 years. Perhaps it was in a Native
American setting. Anyway, I would like a ring count from the limbs!

RE: Highlands NC   ad-@ldeo.columbia.edu
  Sep 11, 2005 19:41 PDT 
That's cool Will,

I like hearing about 400 yr old oaks. Well, in reality, hearing about any 400+
yr old tree is cool. 400 seems like a magic number in terms of tree age. It
seems like a hard number to surpass for some reason.

One of the three 420+ yr old chestnut oaks in northern NJ was sampled at ~ 12'
above the root collar. It had fallen down between my first and second visit to
the stand, so Ed Cook and I had the chance of getting a solid core from this
tree. Therefore, when it was alive, it was most likely the oldest of the
handful of known 420+ yr old chestnut oaks. How old it truly was, however, is
pure speculation. Makes me think chestnut oak can probably go 440-450 at least,
which, now that I think of it, is one basis of my last email to Jess on how the
max age of chestnut oak will increase in the future as it is studied more.

Re: Highlands NC   ad-@ldeo.columbia.edu
  Sep 11, 2005 19:55 PDT 


The solid upper ages for white and chestnut oak might only be solid for the
moment, if moment is defined in geologic time - the next few years. I'm not
suggesting there is unpublished data of older individuals of these species. I
just get a feeling that future research will push these ages up a little more.
My guess is that chestnut oak's max age would increase more than white oak. I
guess time will tell, though.

I'm not sure where in Linville the white oaks were cored; they were cored ~20
yrs ago. But, yes, the lack of a drought signal in this population is very
unusual and surprising, esp. given that drought is the dominant factor of
radial growth of most species studied to date in the eastern US.

RE: Highlands NC OLD TREES   Will Blozan
  Sep 12, 2005 06:21 PDT 

Larry and Neil,

The chestnut oak is growing on the south face of Greenbrier Pinnacle on the
TN side of the Smokies. There is an extensive chestnut oak forest with very
old trees (and very large, too 14'+ cbh). Many trees exceed 300 years as
witnessed by trail cut specimens and my core samples. Black gum in the same
area reaches 578+, tuliptree 448+, hemlock 430+, and a fallen American
chestnut over 300 (trail cut). DR. Stahle and I sampled the stand in 1997
for some chestnut chronologies, but we did not core in the oldest groves.

The white oak was in the western Smokies on the Gold Mine trail NW of Cades
Cove. I also recall another chestnut oak cut to clear the trail that was 380
years or so a good ways up from the base. Other old trees in the area
include a 339 year old mockernut, 334 year old shortleaf pine (2 actually),
a 209 year old Table-mountain pine, 230 year old pitch pine, and 340 year
old Saul's oak (this specific tree is one of the coolest on Earth!). White
and chestnut oak also exceed 300 routinely. Virginia pine exceeds 140 years.
I also tried to core an ANCIENT looking- as in primo Cross Timbers quality-
post oak that went 220 years in the first 4 inches of the core. It then
turned to punk so the rest of the 8" to center was rotten. I suspect it may
have been close to 400 years. Blackgum probably reaches 500+ with scattered
white pine over 350 years. BTW, there is approximately 20,000 acres of these
trees (with sparse former settlements).


Wye Oak   Edward Frank
  Jun 07, 2007 18:39 PDT 

I came across an article on the destruction of the Wye Oak in Maryland in 2002:
60 mph winds fell Wye Oak
By: Greg Maki, Staff Writer June 09, 2002
The Star Democrat 2002 Newspaper

http://www.arcytech.org/java/population/oak_stories.html The Wye Oak stood 104 feet tall with a circumference of 36 feet. It was a White Oak. The trunk was hollow up to about 40 feet with only 4 to6 inches of sound wood supporting the structure. However there are intact 5+ foot diameter lower limbs that could potentially be used for dating. It was conservatively estimated to be 460 years old (no count confirmation) with a very large spread.

Ed Frank