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.

 

Revisiting the Seven Sisters Oak and the nearby Abbot Oak

Though I’ve had a couple of other blog posts in the works, I couldn’t leave the 30-something project behind without a nod to the Seven Sisters Oak, the current president of the Live Oak Society and the national champion live oak tree species in the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry. And also a 30-something oak…

The Seven Sisters Oak – Live Oak Society President and Champion Tree of the Southern live oak species in American Forest’s Champion Tree List.

Cyndi and I took a drive from Bayou Lafourche to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain recently to revisit the Seven Sisters Oak, to make some new photographs for the blog and say hello to an old friend.  The sky was overcast, making it possible a good day to photograph in the shadows of a towering old oak.  The recent rains had turned the resurrection fern a lush bright green. (We also made a stop in Ponchatoula to stock up on local strawberries and visit a couple of other local oaks including the Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak.

While visiting the tree, we met the current owners, John and Mary Jane Becker. They were welcoming and informative about their term as caretakers of this massive oak (almost 40 feet in circumference).  The Seven Sister’s Oak shades much of the front yard of the Becker’s home in the historic neighborhood of Lewisburg, near the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, in Mandeville.  Mrs. Becker remarked how the old oak was wearing an abundance of new celery green flowers (catkins) when we visited, one indication that the centuries-old tree is still healthy and vital.  She also said that last year the oak produced a bumper crop of acorns.

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Seven Sisters Oak, view toward the Becker’s home.

If you missed our previous blog post on the Seven Sisters, I’ll recap some of its known history (though what we know about the oak dates back less than 100 years and some estimates of the tree’s age put it to between 600 and 1,000 years old).

The Seven Sisters Oak is actually the second live oak to take the status of President of the Live Oak Society.  It replaced the Society’s first president, the Locke Breaux Oak, after its death from air and water pollution (see my previous posts about the Locke Breaux Oak for details).

For years, the eligibility of the Seven Sisters Oak as a society member tree was disputed.  It was argued to be several separate trees growing together rather than a single tree. Then in 1976, after inspection by federal foresters, the multiple tree trunks were found to have a single root system.  It was accepted into the Society—registered (#200)—and in time, was appointed the new Society President, based on its girth, limb spread, and height.

(A short sidebar.  From other sources, I see this is an ongoing argument among tree-measuring folks—whether the circumference of a multi-trunk oak can be compared equally to a single-trunk tree. I take a neutral position on this topic. To me, they’re all very old oaks, and as such deserve to be considered as cultural, historic, and environmental treasures, regardless of the shape or number of trunks.)

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The oak tree’s first sponsor was the Doby family who owned the property on which the tree is located at that time (the 1930s). Mrs. Carole Hendry Doby was one of seven sisters in her family and the tree was named originally named “Doby’s Seven Sisters.” The oak was re-registered (#697) by its next owners, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Seiler.  The Seiler’s renamed the tree simply “The Seven Sisters.”

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Seven Sisters Oak, view from outside of the oak’s canopy, showing new green catkins.

According to the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry, the Seven Sisters Oak has a crown spread of 139 feet, a circumference of 467 inches (approximately thirty-nine feet) and a height of sixty-eight feet. Its age has been estimated to be somewhere between 500 and 1200 years old. The current measurement is closer to 480 + inches or 40 feet.

The Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak – near Covington, LA

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Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak

While traveling to Mandeville from Ponchatoula, we stopped in at the St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benenedict, LA., just west of Covington. The abbey grounds are home to four Live Oak Society member trees.  The largest, the Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak (#2464), has a beautiful spread and a girth of approximately 22 feet 10 inches. The tree is named after the Benedictine monk who was the first head of the monastery established in 1889 by a small group of monks from St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana.

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Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak, study 2

You’ll see in my photos, that several limbs of the 60 foot-tall tree are supported by metal pole braces. According to the abbey historian, the tree was damaged by a wind storm (and possibly a tornado) that swept through the area in November of 1957. The winds damaged the mid-section of the oak causing a severe split. But instead of cutting the tree down, the Abbey chose to secure the split with heavy bolts and limb supports. So far, the tree appears to have stabilized.

Note: The abbey was hit hard by rains, winds, and flooding the week before our visit. It was spring, and the old oak was shedding leaves to begin new spring growth and flowers.  That’s why the oak has so few leaves in the photos above.

The Marvin McGraw and Mr. Mike oaks

It looks like I’ll be revisiting the 30-something project on and off during 2016, mainly to add a few “stragglers” – oaks that I missed in my original list of possible 30-something-sized trees or others that have turned up since my last entry.  In this post, I’ll feature examples of both.

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Marvin McGraw Memorial Oak, study 1

The Marvin McGraw Memorial Oak – This old oak was on the first list I put together of Live Oak Society members that could be in the 30-something category. It is located in Reserve, on the east bank of the Mississippi River in St. John the Baptist Parish. It was registered by Maxie and Pete McGraw (#1428) with an estimated girth of 31 feet (my measurement was 27’-6”). I was able to hone in on the tree’s exact location through help from Maxie and Pete’s brother, Marvin, who is the current director of marketing and public relations for the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

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Marvin McGraw Memorial Oak, black-and-white study

He recalled how when he was a child the old oak tree stood in a grassy pasture in the company of grazing cows and horses. His father Marvin, the oak’s namesake, used to tell the kids that the old oak “was already a large tree when Columbus discovered America.” Marvin (the son) also remembered that there was a very old graveyard near the oak where they would find gravestones and wrought-iron crosses with inscriptions written in French.

When I visited the oak, the graveyard had long ago disappeared. And over the years, the open pasture shrunk steadily as it was parceled up into lawns. I found the oak still growing in a small side yard sandwiched between two homes at the end of a quiet residential street.

The Mike Oak – The Mike Oak is located outside of the entrance gate to Oaklawn Manor, which is just off Irish Bend Road and a few miles above Franklin. On the entrance road onto Oaklawn Drive, the oak is in the lot to the left of the driveway that turns right into the Oaklawn Manor gate house and home.  It is not the most lovely of the many oaks in the grove lining Oaklawn Drive, or of the oaks on the Manor grounds, but it is the largest, with a girth in 2015 of 30 feet.

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The Mike Oak, study 1, Oaklawn Manor near Franklin, LA

The land that became Oaklawn Manor Plantation was purchased in 1809 by Irish-born attorney Alexander Porter and it was his Irish ancestry that gave this stretch along Bayou Teche the name “Irish Bend.”Porter served on the Louisiana Supreme Court and also as U.S. Senator representing Louisiana. After his time in the U.S. Senate, Porter retired to Irish Bend and built the Greek Revival home near Franklin that he named Oaklawn Manor Plantation.

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Mike Oak, infrared study

After a series of owners and renovations in the 1960s, the Manor was purchased in 1986 by Murphy “Mike” Foster, Jr. and his wife Alice and underwent another restoration. Foster was elected 53rd governor of Louisiana in 1995 and still owns and lives at Oaklawn Manor today.  The home and grounds are open to the public for tours. Call ahead for tour hours (337-828-0434).

The Mike Oak was registered (#3447 in the Live Oak Society registry) by Mr. Foster and his wife.  I’ve met with Mr. Foster on a few occasions when photographing the oaks at Oaklawn. He even gave me a tour of the grounds on his golf cart to point out the many old live oaks on his property.

As a side note, ex-governor Foster is an oak preservationist at heart. He realizes the importance of this iconic tree to the cultural heritage and ecology of the state and has in the past interceded to stop the removal of many old oaks along the Grand Chenier highway (state Hwy. 82). This highway parallels the southern edge of the state between Pecan Island and Cameron. The chenier oaks, though weather-beaten and bent, help slow erosion of the delicate coastal ridges throughout the “Chenier Plain,” an area extending roughly from Sabine Lake (west) to Vermillion Bay (east) along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.

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Mike Oak, color study 2

 

Josephine Oak, Oak Alley Plantation

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Josephine Oak, view toward levee

The Josephine oak, named after Mrs. Josephine Stewart, is the largest in the alley of 28 oaks at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA.  This immense tree is approximately 31’ in circumference, more than 70’ tall, and with a crown spread of approximately 150’.

It is in the west row of 14 trees in the historic alley. Oddly, most people assume the oaks at Oak Alley were planted at the same time that the plantation home was built between 1836–1839. However, it’s estimated that the trees pre-date the plantation home by as many as 100 years, making this the oldest alley of oaks in Louisiana and the U.S., possibly older than 350 years of age.

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Josephine Oak panoramic view

All of the trees in the alley at Oak Alley are registered members of the Live Oak Society.

McDonogh Oak, City Park, New Orleans

McDonogh Oak color 2The McDonogh Oak is the largest and oldest oak in New Orleans’ City Park. Along with the Anseman Oak and Suicide Oak, it is part of an ancient oak forest that was hundreds of years old in 1718 when brothers Iberville and Bienville first scouted this area for a portage of bayous connecting the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. This natural system of waterways was a deciding factor for the brothers’ choice of this location to create the settlement that became New Orleans.

McDonough Oak adjCity Park was once part of the Jean Louis Allard Plantation, originally established in the 1770’s, and later purchased in 1845 by shipping magnate and philanthropist John McDonogh. Upon his death in 1850, McDonogh donated the land to the City of New Orleans and in 1854 a large section was designated as a city park. According to park records, in 1958, the National Park and Recreation Convention met in New Orleans and hosted a breakfast for 1,028 convention attendees under the massive canopy of the McDonogh Oak’s limbs.

In 1981, the ancient oak lost a major branch, causing severe damage. Extensive tree surgery was done and posts were added to help support the remaining main limbs.  The McDonogh Oak’s circumference is more than 25 ft., and its crown spread is more than 150 ft.