Oneonta loses one of its oldest residents

County Agent’s Corner

Evan Gargus, Sue Tidwell’s grandson, stands on the stump of the large oak tree that had to be brought down.

Evan Gargus, Sue Tidwell’s grandson, stands on the stump of the large oak tree that had to be brought down.

Relax! I’m talking about what has to be one of the oldest trees in Oneonta and probably in the county. It was an oak, maybe a Willow Oak. I’m not sure. I didn’t attempt to count the rings in the main trunk, plus some of the heartwood had rotted out, making it impossible to accurately date the tree.

Some of the scaffold limbs had right at 50 rings. I would estimate the tree to be somewhere between 150 to 200 years old, possibly even older. The trunk had a diameter of over four feet. I’m sure if the tree could talk, it could tell you most of the history of Blount County and Oneonta. It is sad to lose such a treasure!

Sue Tidwell called me recently about an oak tree that had lost a large limb during a recent storm. She wanted an opinion on the health of the tree. She was trying to decide if the tree should be taken down.

The tree was huge and had several large dead limbs as well as other indicators that it was in a rapid state of decline. My thoughts were that the tree was going to come down on its own at some point in time and that it might be best if it was brought down in a controlled manner to prevent damage to something or someone. She called back a few days later and reported a second large limb had sluffed off. I think that helped her make her mind up to go ahead and take the tree down.

She called once more and indicated that the tree was down and the crew cutting the tree lost two chains on one of their saws bringing it down. It seems the chainsaw had hit rock of some type. This got my attention.

I have seen trees grow around farm implements that were left standing against the tree and have often seen old tools embedded in trees. However, I have never heard of a rock being absorbed by a tree. As much quarried rock as we have in the county I could imagine that someone, once upon a time, had laid a slab of stone up against the tree and eventually the tree had grown around it. This was not the case.

At some point early in the life of the tree, it had obtained a wound of some type. The owners had mixed up cement and poured it into the wound to “seal” the wound. The practice was fairly common a long time ago but is no longer recommended. The cement, or any other wound dressing material, may trap water and lead to further infection and tree degradation. I don’t recommend the use of any pruning sealer or anything along those lines. Just let the wound dry and heal itself.

There are a good many very old and very large trees around Oneonta and all over the county. There are three directly across from the Extension office. One on the corner of Fifth Avenue and U.S. 231 had to be cut recently because it was dying.

Another one of the big trees across the street got hit by lightning about eight or nine years ago. I thought it would die fairly quickly, but have been surprised that it has survived and is in fair shape. The damage done by the lightning included the death of some of the terminal limbs in the very top of the tree as well as splitting of the bark.

Wounds of this type allow pathogens (fungi mostly) to enter the tree. It may take several years, but this tree will eventually have major issues. Of course, it could come down in a storm before the fungi can impact it. In many cases, the fungi rot the center of the tree, weakening the tree, making it easier for a storm to bring it down.

In any case, it is sad to see the big trees fall. Many oak species can live to be 200 to 300 years old. Live oaks and other species may live much longer.

If you need your trees evaluated for tree health or have issues, you may contact me or Matt Tucker with the Alabama Forestry Commission here in the county.

Everyone knows it’s hot and dry. I have been watering plants that I planted last winter just trying to keep them alive. The Extension office will be hosting a Rain Barrel Workshop on Tuesday, June 18, from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m., at the Frank Green Building auditorium. The cost of the program is $40 to cover the barrel and other materials needed. Make sure you drive a truck to take the barrel home. You must register by calling the office at 205-274-2129. Bring cash or a check made out to ACES and pay upon arrival. Call if you have questions.

Dan Porch is County Extension Coordinator with the Blount County Extension Office. Dan lives in and loves Blount County and is available to answer your questions about conservation, agriculture, natural resources, and gardening. He can be reached at (205) 274-2129 or porchdw@aces.edu.