Revisiting the Lorenzo Dow Oak

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Lorenzo Dow Oak in the rain, Grangeville Masonic Lodge grounds, 35′-8″ girth

Since moving to Bayou Lafourche last December, I regularly consult with the two old oaks in our front yard over photographic work matters. (Cyndi likes to say that I left the corporate world and now I’m employed full-time by the oak trees.) Crazy? Maybe. But the ideas I get when talking to the old oaks are at least as good as those from some of the human supervisors I’ve had over the years.

Last Saturday morning, after checking in with the front-yard oaks and the weather app on my phone, we decided to brave the impending thunderstorms and make a two-hour drive to Grangeville, LA, a postage-stamp-sized town near the Amite River just north and west of Pine Grove. Our objective was to re-photograph the Lorenzo Dow Oak (see my previous blog entry), a 35-foot-plus girth oak located on the grounds of the historic Grangeville Masonic Lodge.

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Lorenzo Dow Oak, panoramic view, study 5

Threatening rain or not, we hit the road and arrived at Grangeville just as the first drops began to fall. I made a flurry of photos, trying to hold my baseball cap over my camera’s wide angle lens to shield it from rain, with a fair amount of success. Since August 2015 when I first photographed the Lorenzo Dow Oak, the Grangeville Masonic Lodge members have cleared away the undergrowth that obscured the trunk and main limbs of the old oak,  revealing the full profile of this huge tree. At 35 ft. 8 in. in girth, this little-known oak is tied with the Randall Oak in New Roads as the second largest and oldest of live oaks in Louisiana.

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Lorenzo Dow Oak, infrared black and white study 1

An interesting side note about this tree that I discovered after my 2015 visit: The Lorenzo Dow Oak was registered tree #261 with the Live Oak Society (LOS). This was probably sometime after 1963, when the LOS became active again after a dormant period of about 16-17 years. Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens acted as secretary of the Society until his death in November 1938. At that time, his list of member trees included 57 oaks. In 1945, Stanley C. Arthur, executive director of the Louisiana State Museum, assumed responsibility for record keeping, admission of new tree members and continued measurements of tree growth.

In the  Live Oak Society Bulletin, a hand-typed newsletter he produced, Mr. Arthur added another 62 oaks to Dr. Stephens’ registry, including their names, locations, measurements and sponsors. This brought the total of member oaks to 119. In that list, there is an oak named the Dr. E.O. Powers Oak, also located in Grangeville, LA. So, it’s possible the Lorenzo Dow Oak was in the first 119 oaks on the Society registry under a different name and with a different sponsor and was renamed and re-registered 20 years later.

In 1957, the Louisiana Garden Club Federation assumed record keeping responsibility for the Society; and since then the secretary/chairmanship and record keeping responsibilities have passed on continually, slowing adding to the now 8,000-plus roster of senior and junior member live oaks.

 

Etienne de Boré Oak (Tree of Life)

Audubon Park – New Orleans, Louisiana

Etienne de Boré oak - Audubon Park, New Orleans

Etienne de Boré oak – Audubon Park, New Orleans

In New Orleans, and especially the neighborhoods surrounding Audubon Park, this oak has been dubbed “The Tree of Life.” Its registered name with the Live Oak Society is the Etienne de Boré oak. The land on which Audubon Park is located was at one time part of de Boré’s extensive sugarcane plantation.

Registration & MeasurementsAt just under 35 feet in circumference today, this oak was number 13 on Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens’ list of 43 original inductee trees into the Live Oak Society and is also in the top 100 oldest surviving oaks on the Society’s member list.  Its girth when it was registered (as #21) was 23 feet, 1 inch. The oak is located in Audubon Park on the down-river side of the Audubon Zoo, right over the fence from the giraffe habitat. It’s an enormous tree with a broad gnarly base of roots and a crown of limbs more than 160 feet wide.

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The Live Oak Society estimates that any oak with a girth of 17 feet in circumference (measured at 4 feet off the ground) is probably 100 years of age or older. This is a rough system of estimation developed by the Society’s founder, Dr. Stephens, which is fairly accurate, though soil, rain, and other habitat conditions can affect a tree’s long-term growth.  A live oak with a girth of more than 30 feet could be 300 years of age or more.  The ages of many of the Society’s oldest and largest trees are only rough guesses, and there’s been much-heated discussion among amateur arborists and other tree-folk over this issue.

Etienne de Bore' Oak

Etienne de Bore’ Oak

History

Jean Etienne de Boré is significant in history as the first French planter in Louisiana to successfully granulate sugarcane into sugar on a large scale, helping to make sugarcane the main crop over indigo and tobacco in antebellum Louisiana. He originally cultivated indigo (a highly valued crop and popular dye); but after several years of drought and insect damage, de Boré decide to gamble the last of his and his wife’s personal funds on growing sugarcane. In 1794, he secured a variety of Cuban sugarcane from Don Antonio Mendez (a Cuban of Spanish descent) who had successfully granulated a small amount of sugar in 1791 (a few barrels or hogsheads – approx. 1000 pounds per barrel) at Magnolia plantation in Saint Bernard Parish, downriver from New Orleans.  With the help of Mendez and a Cuban by the name of Antoine Morin who had experience with the sugar granulation process, de Boré succeeded in producing a crop of sugar on his plantation that he sold for $12,000 (quoted from a Times-Picayune story from January 13, 1895).

De Boré was also the first mayor of New Orleans, appointed to the position by Governor William C.C. Claiborne in 1803, the same year Louisiana was transferred from Spain to France.  He resigned in 1804 after New Orleans became an American colony through the Louisiana Purchase.

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Couple getting married under the limbs of the Etienne de Bore’ oak.

Audubon Park is home to several other member trees of the Live Oak Society. The George and Martha Washington oaks were among the original 43 inductee oaks in the Society along with the de Boré oak. George has passed on but Martha is still alive, in the rhino habitat of the Zoo. There are three other unnamed oaks spread across the Park’s grounds that are elder Society members.

Remains of Martha Washington Oak in Audubon's Rhino habitat

Remains of Martha Washington Oak in Audubon’s Rhino habitat

St. John Cathedral Oak (Cathedral Oak)

Lafayette, Louisiana

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St. John Cathedral Oak – #33 of the original 43 Live Oak Society member trees

The St. John Cathedral Oak is located in Lafayette, Louisiana, on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.  It is currently the second Vice President and a founding member of the Live Oak Society, an organization whose members are all live oaks, with the exception of one human, who serves as “Chairman” and maintains the roster of past, present, and future tree members, as they are registered.  Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens, first President of Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) proposed in a 1934 article titled, “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing[1] that a society of the largest and oldest live oaks (Quercus virginiana) in Louisiana be created to identify and protect these trees for future generations to enjoy.  It was Dr. Stephens’ vision that the association’s members would be oaks whose size and age made them cultural and natural resources worth recognition and preservation.

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St. John Cathedral Oak – girth of 29′ 6″ as of May 2015

Registration & Measurements:  Dr. Stephens’ article listed 43 live oaks that he proposed for charter membership in the order of their size (girth or circumference measured at four feet from the ground), beginning with the largest, the Locke Breaux Oak (now deceased), at 35 feet in girth.  The large oak on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist was well-known to Dr. Stephens, and he listed it as the 33rd largest tree of his acquaintance:

“Thirty-three, Cathedral Oak, Lafayette, 19 feet (measured for State Superintendent Francis G. Blair, of Illinois, who published some account of it in his annual Arbor and Bird Days book for 1929).”[1]

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Cathedral Oak, view from northeast side, beneath limbs

The Cathedral Oak is also commonly known today as the St. John Cathedral Oak.  It is #65 in the Live Oak Society records.  A second measurement of 26 feet, 7 inches was entered in the Society’s records in 2002 and was used to determine the oak’s place among the Live Oak Society’s list of “Top 100” trees from 2003. Additional measurements have been recorded in recent years, as the interest in documenting and measuring large trees, and live oaks, in particular, has increased.  The cathedral’s website reports a measurement made on May 30, 2008, by Jim Foret, a local arborist, and teacher at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette:

“The near five-century-old tree measures 9 feet in diameter, with a circumference of 28 feet 8 inches; it stands approximately 126 high with a spread of 210 feet across.”

Note: Jim Foret and I re-measured the Cathedral Oak on Saturday, May 30, 2015, and it’s now 29′ 6″ in circumference.  The two photos above were made that day.

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Cathedral Oak – view from the northwest side

By any account, this is a massive and sprawling tree, with an unusual twisting and ropy trunk. It is also difficult to photograph and retain a sense of its size and shape because of the long, low branches that jut sharply from the trunk at several angles.

Age & History:  The measurements of older live oaks, as well as other trees species, are of interest to arborists, scientists, and conservationists, as they study rates and conditions of growth. Most methods of age estimation rely on various formulas that translate the tree’s girth or diameter into years to avoid using more invasive techniques, such as coring, that may cause the trees harm. The Live Oak Society’s initial criteria for membership was based on an oak having a girth of at least 17 feet, which Dr. Stephen’s estimated would place the tree’s age at approximately 100+ years (today, the Society says that 16 feet of girth qualifies an oak as a centenarian tree).  Dr. Stephens recognized, however, that varying habitats produced different growth rates and tree sizes:

“Therefore we may infer that close-grown live oaks may be several hundred years old, and still much smaller in girth than these we have listed.  So, there should be a by-law for this Live Oak Association, admitting members of smaller girth than 17 feet, when sufficient evidence appears for the age of not less than a hundred years.”[1]

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Cathedral Oak, view from the northeast side toward the cathedral

Since 1934, the Live Oak Society has added a “junior league” category and allows for the registration of live oaks with a minimum of 8 feet in girth. This has resulted in a significant increase in the Society’s membership, which now includes more than 8700 live oaks in 14 states (as of April 2019).

The title of “centenarian” is still reserved to those trees estimated to be at least 100 years old.  It is interesting to note that in 1934, at 19 feet, the St. John Cathedral Oak would have been approximately 150 years old, using Dr. Stephens’ method of age estimation, though the church estimates the tree’s age as much older. The existence of this ancient oak in 1821 and its prominent size is believed to have been a primary reason for the selection of the site on which the first Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist was built:

“Many speculate that our first pastor (Michel Bernard Barriere) selected the specific plot of land for the church parish due to the grand oak tree, which would have been 275 years old at that time (1821).”[2]

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Cathedral Oak, infrared study, view from the west side

The information above illustrates how difficult it can be to arrive at an accurate age estimate for old oaks. If the Cathedral oak was 275 years old in 1821, then it would have been almost 400 years in 1934 instead of the 150-year estimate that Dr. Stephens’ girth measurement of 19 feet might suggest. The average oak’s growth rate is estimated to be most rapid during the first 75 to 100 years, slower during the next 75 to 100, and then even slower after that point. The girth growth logically would slow as the tree matures and its system extends to support multiple branches (some that are nearly as large as the trunk itself) and wide canopy spreads. The difference in girth noted between 1934 and 2002 in the Cathedral oak could also be a result of the variations in girth that can occur when one measures 6 inches higher or lower up or down the tree’s trunk. Many older oaks have massive limbs or root balls within this 4 to 4.5-foot range that adds significantly to its girth. The Live Oak Society President, the Seven Sisters Oak is estimated to be around 1200 years of age. The Angel Oak near Charleston, South Carolina is estimated to be between 500 and 1500 years old (500 years is a more realistic guess).

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Cathedral Oak, infrared study, view from the southwest side

Future Generations: Dr. Stephens made provision for future generations of live oaks to be grown from the hardy stock of the Live Oak Society’s registered trees. The Society’s original by-laws stated that “annual dues” of 25 acorns be collected from each oak member. These were to be planted on the Southwestern Institute farm (near Lafayette).  Although the practice has since been discontinued, many of the acorns planted as a result of his efforts are now mature oaks today, many growing on the grounds of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The St. John Cathedral Oak, and two other venerable members of the Live Oak Society have also donated their acorns to national reforestation efforts, as noted by Ethelyn Orso, in her informative book, Louisiana Live Oak Lore:

“Acorns from famous and historic Louisiana live oaks were collected in 1990 to be used in a reforestation program sponsored by the American Forestry Association.  Trees chosen for the project included the Seven Sisters Oak, the Oak Alley Plantation trees, and the St. John Cathedral Oak.  The acorns were planted and the resulting seedlings were transported to other states to create America’s Historic Forests.  Each new forest will be at least 1,000 acres and will include more than 500,000 trees. Such a project could also be undertaken in parts of Louisiana where great stands of live oaks once stood.”[3]


[1] Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens, President, Southwestern Louisiana Institute, “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing”, Louisiana Conservation Review Vol. IV, No. 2 (April 1934), 16-23.

[2] http://www.saintjohncathedral.org/Our_Church.html [3] Ethelyn G. Orso,  Louisiana Live Oak Lore (Lafayette, Louisiana: The Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1992), 20.

Locke Breaux Oak

Taft, Louisiana – St. Charles Parish

Locke Breaux Oak, first President

Locke Breaux Oak, first President of the Live Oak Society

The Locke Breaux Oak in Taft, Louisiana, was the first President and a founding member of the Live Oak Society, a unique organization whose members are all live oaks (Quercus virginiana).  The society operates under the auspices of the Louisiana Garden Club Federation, Inc. today; and the tree association includes only one human, the acting Secretary (currently Coleen Perilloux Landry, “Chairman”), who maintains the roster of past, present, and future tree members, as they are registered.

History

The Locke Breaux Oak was a beautiful giant, named after the Locke and Breaux families, descendents of English philosopher, John Locke.  Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens, founder of the Live Oak Society, in an article in the Louisiana Conservation Review (April 1934), begins his list of 43 live oaks proposed for membership in a tree “Association” with a description of the Locke Breaux Oak:

“First on the list, and most outstanding timber of the highest rank in the Association, is the Locke Breaux Live Oak, on the right bank of the Mississippi River, four miles above Hahnville in St. Charles Parish…This is the largest live oak I ever saw.  Its girth four feet above the ground is 35 feet; its height about 75 feet; its spread 166 feet, when I measured it on January 22, 1932, in company with my friend, its owner, the late Samuel Locke Breaux of New Orleans.”

The age of the Locke Breaux Oak has been estimated by various sources.  Ethelyn G. Orso’s Louisiana Live Oak Lore (published by  The Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana) indicates that:

“According to legend, in 1682 LaSalle and his band of explorers knelt beneath it to give thanks for their safe journey down the Mississippi River.  The Locke Breaux Oak was estimated to be between 300 and 400 years old.”

A description of the Locke Breaux Oak is also found on the reverse of a postcard printed with a color image of the tree (photo by Hubert A. Lowman), which we purchased, with many thanks, from Billy’s Postcards).

Description of the Locke Breaux Oak

Postcard of the Locke Breaux Oak - description on reverse

Beneath the bold title, the postcard states,

“This magnificent tree, the oldest live oak known, sprouted in 1657.”

and further describes the setting:

“A convenient road circles the tree and picnic facilities are provided by the Colonial Dairy, on whose property it grows.”

The Locke Breaux Oak is now deceased, its demise 1966-1968 due to air and ground water pollution, testimony to the need for more rigorous means of protection for other oaks of environmental, cultural, historic and aesthetic significance.  The live oak’s original sponsor, Colonial Dairy Farm, was sold to a chemical company, one of many that began to flourish in the parish after the discovery of oil within the region, which resulted in a shift from agriculture to industry.  The former Live Oak Society president remains #1 in the roster; and its impact on the landscape and contribution to history are known today, by those who were never privileged to view it in person, thanks to the individuals and organizations that recognized its grandeur and significance, and paused to record it, as well as to preserve the records.

The second and current President of the Live Oak Society, the Seven Sisters Oak in Lewisburg, LA (near Mandeville), was elected in 1968.  The Seven Sisters Oak was originally known as Doby’s Seven Sisters The name was changed and the oak re-registered as the Seven Sisters Oak.  A magnificent and worthy successor, the live oak’s girth measured 36′ 1″ at registration and was recorded as 38′ in 2002 on the “Society’s Top 100” list.

Seven Brothers Oak (Lastrapes Oak)

Washington, Louisiana

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Seven Brothers (Lastrapes) Oak

The Seven Brothers Oak is located south of Washington, Louisiana, on Hwy. 182 about a mile out of downtown Washington – at the intersection of Hwy 182 and Par Road 5-25.  The large live oak is usually well-maintained in the open space fronting the Highway.

Referred to as the “Seven Sisters” by the Live Oak Society‘s founder, Dr. Edwin Lewis Stephens, in an article published in the Louisiana Conservation Review (April 1934), and not to be confused with the Live Oak Society’s current President, the Seven Sisters Oak, in St. Tammany parish—this old oak is best known today as the “Seven Brothers Oak” or the “Lastrapes” oak.  The Seven Brothers Oak is the seventh tree listed in Dr. Stephens’ 1934 article and is #9 on the Live Oak Society’s registry.

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Seven Brothers Oak, study in black and white

The tree’s girth (circumference) was reported in two sections by Dr. Stephens in 1934 (27’3” and 26’4”), due to the configuration of the tree’s multi-trunk system.  One section of the system (the larger measurement) had a severed trunk.

The trunk section measurements on Nov. 11, 2007 were:
32’3”      Section nearest to the road (including the severed trunk)
28’11”    Section nearest to the fence

History:  There is more than one story about this particular tree (or group of trees)[1].  On our expedition, the person who currently maintains the tree and grounds of the Lastrapes homestead explained that it had been planted and named for the seven Lastrapes brothers who had left home to fight in the Civil War.  In another variation of the story, described in Ethelyn Orso’s Louisiana Live Oak Lore, the birth of his seventh son prompted Jean Henri Lastrapes to request that seven oaks be planted; the workers arrived late in the day with the seedlings and temporarily put them in one container (or hole).  The business of the days that followed in the cotton fields distracted the workers from ever completing the planting task—and thus the trees grew together, sharing the close proximity of their original planting site.

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Seven Brothers Oak, view from the southeast side

In a recent email from Paul Lastrapes, he confirmed my suspicions that, “the version of the story that the tree was named for 7 brothers who went to the Civil War is not only incorrect, but it’s impossible. The tree was planted many decades before the war AND while it is true that some of Jean Henri’s descendants served, 7 from the same family? No. The genealogy tree back to Jean Henri does not support this version in any way. ”

Photo Notes: The skies were alternately sunny and cloudy, as the afternoon thunderheads passed by; so Bill had some wonderful light to photograph the various aspects of the old oak in black & white with his view camera, while Cyndi photographed the nearby cottage.  Although timeworn and no longer in use, the structure seemed content to remain as it was, in the company of its venerable friend.

Cyndi’s Nature Notes:  A frequent visitor to the live oak, a golden silk orb-weaver spider (Nephilia clavipes), also known as the “banana spider”, had created a web amongst the lower branches of the tree.

Banana Spider

Golden Silk Orb-Weaver –  C.L. Nelson 2007

 


[1]Orso, Ethelyn G; Louisiana Live Oak Lore (pg. 77-78); The Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana; Lafayette, LA 1992.