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The Wye Oak and the Birth of the Big Tree Program

The famous Wye Oak, of Wye Mills, Md., had been on our radar since at least 1919, when it was listed as the first of a few trees American Forests (then the American Forestry Association) put on its tree “Hall of Fame” list.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates the oak sprouted around 1540. It stood at a site near a Native American trail that ran down the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, and later grew into a settlement that became Wye Mills. In 1909, the oak — already a giant — was measured, photographed and first officially noted for its size by Fred Besley, Maryland’s first State Forester and a founding father of the Big Tree program, and Richard Bennett, a descendant of one of the earliest owners of the property on which the oak stood.

Wye Oak of Wye Mills, Maryland

The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Wye Oak sprouted around 1540. Sadly, the famous big tree was felled in a windstorm in 2002.

The tree was purchased by the State of Maryland in 1939, in order to protect it, and over the years, state arborists fed, pruned and cabled the tree, effectively preserving its life for another 63 years.

By 1940, when American Forests launched the National Champion Tree register, the Wye Oak was listed as the largest white oak in the country. Nominated by Besley, its measurements, as of 1938, were: circumference at breast height, 27 feet, 8 inches; height, 95 feet; and a spread of 165 feet. The National Champion white oak today is in Warfield, Va,. stands at 27 feet, 7 inches in circumference, 90 feet in height and 120 feet in crown spread.

Sadly, in June 2002, the Wye Oak, then with a girth of 31 feet, 10 inches, was brought down by a windstorm. The legacy of the Wye Oak lives on as a desk for the Maryland governor. Wood was also distributed to some 40 artists and craftspeople who have used the tree’s remains to create carvings, sculptures, oil paintings, furnishings and serving pieces.

It remains a legendary tree, and its legend will live on for years to come — a clone of the giant oak is growing where its ancestor once stood for centuries.

American Forests maintains the national register of Champion Trees and works to protect the forests where our champions live.

August 16th, 2016|Tags: |0 Comments

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