Growing strong

The great Wye Oak, seen here in 1962, was a landmark in its time. The official state tree was 460 years old and 96 feet tall when it succumbed in a storm in 2002, in Talbot County. (File photo/The Baltimore Sun / June 6, 2002)

Spring begins March 20, and a small but sturdy white oak tree is waiting with open branches.

It's not just any tree, but a link to history, standing tall — well, about 5.5 feet tall — in Guilford's Gateway Park.

This white oak is not nearly as tall or as old as its famous ancestor, the late, great, 96-foot Wye Oak that toppled in a Talbot County storm on June 6, 2002, after more than 460 years of life.

That tree, near the Wye River on Maryland's Eastern Shore, was once the state tree, and the largest white oak in the U.S. in its day, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.


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But give this new tree time. It's a white oak, a descendant of the original Wye Oak, purchased as a seedling a few years after the big tree's death as part of a DNR program to sell the Wye Oak's offspring.

Mark Counselman, of Oakenshawe, planted the tree several years ago in his backyard, and transplanted it late last year to the nearby park at St. Paul Street, 33rd Street and Greenway, the oak is already a little taller than one of his sons, Matthew, 5, who accompanied his dad to the park with a friend from Calvert School to check up on the tree in spring-like weather March 9.

Another descendant tree was planted at his sister's house in Hampstead, he said.

He made arrangements with the Guilford Association to plant this one at the south end of Gateway Park, also known locally as "the dog park."

"We wanted a spot where it could grow into a landmark tree," he said.

Counselman, president of the Oakenshawe Improvement Association, said he has personally planted about a dozen trees in recent years, and "all of them are doing fine."

And he noted, "When you look around, you see a lot of mature trees in the neighborhood."

Still, he worries that the elements or vandals will hurt the still-frail tree, or that someone sitting against it might damage it.

"It's an awful lot of pressure," he said.

Well-remembered

And this is a tree with pedigree. The original Wye Oak was purchased by the state in 1939 and declared Maryland's State Tree in 1941. It measured 31 feet, 8 inches in circumference, with a crown spread of 119 feet, and covered nearly one-third acre. Wye Oak State Park was built around it, primarily to protect it, according to the DNR's website. By 1977, the state valued the tree at $35,000, and officials said the species can live for up to 1,000 years.

It took a major storm, with heavy summer winds, thunderstorms and lightning, to fell the tree, which had seen everything from American Indians to marriages under its shade, according to the site. People came to Wye Oak Park for days afterward to pay their respects and take a leaf or twig as a keepsake.

A pavilion containing a section of the trunk and original site can be viewed daily from sunrise to sunset, the website states.

There are plans for a historical exhibit on the grounds, with pieces of the Wye Oak, interpretive panels and a sapling, according to the website.

According to the DNR, which sells descendant seedlings from the Wye Oak, furniture, ornaments and even gavels have been made from the wood. Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich had a ceremonial desk made in 2003.

"For most folks it was a unique piece of Maryland," Richard Garrett, manager of a DNR nursery, said in an article in the DNR's Natural Resource magazine in the fall of 2002, after the great tree finally buckled. "I talked to people that wouldn't visit the shore without going by there."

And, DNR forester Stark McLaughlin told the magazine, "They're still going by and looking at the stump."

Now, Counselman has a part of that history to enjoy close to home. And in the four or five years, he and the Guilford Association plan to erect a plaque commemorating the descendant tree and where it came from, he said.

Meanwhile, he is watering and mulching it and watching it grow.

"It looks great," he said. "It's going to be a massive tree."

Call the Maryland Department of Natural Resources nursery at 1-800-873-3763 to order seedlings, or go to http://www.shopdnr.com.