It’s amazing what one can learn about a tree when it falls in the forest, or in this case, on our preserve!

We recently found a beautiful, old oak tree blocking the trail in our Watson-Symington Preserve, a few weeks after Hurricane Isaias. After ensuring the trail was cleared, our Executive Director Aaron Lefland decided to apply forestry forensics to the fallen tree and determine its age. Aaron cut out a cross section (also called a tree cookie) from the base of the tree, exposing all of the tree’s growth rings.

After carefully sanding the tree cookie to expose even the smallest of rings, we learned that the tree was nearly 150 years old! This mighty oak began growing from a tiny acorn that likely fell during the American Civil War. Slowly and steadily, the tree gained hight and girth, making its way to canopy of the forest. The very tight rings in the 1960s indicate that the tree was growing incredibly slowly, possibly due to drought or disease. Over the last 30 years, though, this oak was growing at a steady pace as it sequestered carbon, provided food and shelter for wildlife, and filtered the air.

There is a silver lining in the demise of this oak tree, and we do not mourn its loss. The gap in the canopy created by this tree’s absence will allow other, surrounding trees to grow faster as they receive more sunlight. And this tree, though dead, will continue to support abundant life as it decomposes and returns nutrients to the soil.