the age bubble
11, 2006 07:39 PDT
A short time ago, a huge northern red oak on the Smith College
was taken down because of limb rot. The tree presented a hazard
people, cars, and two adjacent buildings. When standing the tree
almost 17 feet in girth and a little over 90 feet in height. The
tree had a plaque on it and was a veritable institution. It was
to be 300 years old or older. Somewhere along the way, I suspect
someone equated its size with advanced age. I had thought that
college possessed records on the tree that verified an advanced
Yesterday, I counted between 130 and 140 annual rings on the low
left behind. Based on blue markers used to tick off blocks of 5
the discovery of a relatively young age must have been an
to the folks on campus who were responsible for the stating that
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
oak and that is exactly what it was. Once again, the mistake was
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
myself that I didn't stand my ground when first seeing the tree
believing it to be maybe 170 years old at most. Oh well.
Robert T. Leverett
Cofounder, Eastern Native Tree Society
Bursting the age bubble
12, 2006 12:53 PDT
Actually the tree was thought to be over 200 years old, the
stating that it was around when the Constitution was signed!
pretty bad mistake.....
Monica Jakuc Leverett
Elsie Irwin Sweeney Professor of Music
Bursting the age bubble
13, 2006 19:34 PDT
Interesting point of comparison. My Great Grand parents
an semi-old growth woodlot that was logged by my grandparents
grandmother died in 1985. The trees were in the
range, a mixture of chinquipin oak, red oak, sugar maple with a
white oaks, ash and walnuts. I counted a few of the largest
The two biggest Red Oaks were 167, ~200 years old. While the
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
Didn't get to the sugar maples quick enough too ring count any
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
(the red X lasted for 10 years). It sits rather forelornly at
edge of the clearing that was once filled by perhaps six other
trees (the 373 year old one included)
- A large 3' diameter white oak, that was passed over because of
crooked, knot laden trunk, but it has an impressive looking
- And right beside it a red oak of similar size. It's base was
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
you can see daylight through. It's been this way for at least 20
years, but sprouts from the former lower limbs soldier bravely
In it's prime I'd guess the tree probably was among the tallest
- 2' dbh beech with my great grand-dad's initials on it, dated
- 3' dbh single-trunked basswood with an intact crown. This is
largest basswood I've seen in the area with a full crown. (Most
basswoods, in the area I grew up experience a fairly virulent
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
other multi-trunk basswoods that have rotted up and crumbled,
so a new generation of poles is shooting up from the root
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
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,
other elms of all ages have died all around them. They
100' of each other, and were canopy trees even before the
hesitate to say they are naturally resistant because there's
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),
inexplicably the last wave of disease in the last 2-3 years took
all. It did get very dry 3 summer ago so perhaps that had
to do with it.
Bursting the age bubble
26, 2006 12:38 PST
When I was a child the biggest elm in town (Hampton, N.H,) was
down in 1960. It was generally assumed to be 250-300 years old,
kinds of historical references to back up the various claims. A
count of the stump showed it to be 176 years old.
There is an oak in Haverhill, MA which is called the
The early settlers there held prayer meetings under the oak
meeting hall was built in 1648. The tree still stands but is
and approaching stag status. It no longer produces acorns. When
down a ring count would be interesting.