Goose Island Oak
In 1966 the Goose Island Oak (the Big Tree) was named National Champion tree in the category of Southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana), in American Forests’ National Big Tree Registry. At the time, it was measured at 35.1 feet in circumference, was 44 feet high, and had a crown spread of 89 feet. It’s also known locally as the Texas Big Tree, the Lamar Oak, and the Bishop’s Oak. For years, the Goose Island Oak held the National Champion position and was even touted to be the largest live oak in the world. However, by the various methods of measuring and earning points to determine “Champion” trees, it is certainly in the top 10 largest live oaks in the U.S., but not the largest.
The Seven Sisters Oak in Lewisburg, Louisiana, and the Middleton Oak in Charleston, South Carolina, (the Live Oak Society’s President and First Vice President) have both been determined to be larger. (To calculate a tree’s total point value, American Forests uses the following equation: trunk circumference (inches) + height (feet) + one-quarter average crown spread (feet) = total points.)
In 2000, an as yet unnamed live oak in Brazoria County, further up the Texas coast, was measured by a Michael Lange, a federal wildlife biologist, who found it to be even larger than the Goose Island Oak. The Brazoria County oak, located deep within the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, and about 50 miles south of Houston, is now the Texas state champion live oak. (62’ high and 10’ 3” in diameter).
None of this information is meant to slight the Goose Island Oak, which is definitely an impressive and old tree. According to climatologists, the Big Tree has survived as many as forty to fifty major hurricanes, as well as numerous floods, droughts and wildfires. The Goose Island Oak has been linked in local history and legend to Indians and pirates. Local stories claim that the cannibalistic Karankawas Indians held councils under the tree (and maybe a cannibal picnic or two). It was also purported to have been a rendezvous site for both pirates and Comanche Indians.
Early European explorers, who supposedly visited the oak, may have included the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca in 1528 and Sieur de LaSalle in 1684. The giant tree is located in Goose Island State Park, approximately 12 miles north of Rockport, Texas, on park road 13, very near the beach. Signs inside the park direct visitors to the tree. In nearby Columbus, Texas, at the intersection of Interstate 10 and state highway 71, you can find the third largest live oak in the state. It’s squeezed in between a private residence and a small business as you enter Columbus on 1218 Walnut Street. There are several old and beautiful live oaks throughout Columbus; a number of them reside in the cemetery across the street from the Columbus Oak.