The Compton Oak on Nicholson Street in Colonial Williamsburg spreads its branches far and wide, inviting you to take a break on benches parked beneath its umbrella-like canopy.

In summer, it's probably the coolest spot in town, while its October views afford you the best seat to see the historic area's annual show of fall foliage.

Planted in the early 1930s, the picturesque oak stands 70 feet tall and 97 feet wide; its trunk circumference is an impressive 14 feet when measured at chest height.

The evergreen oak is a natural hybrid, having a live oak and an overcup oak for parents. Legend says it was found growing wild in Pungo, a southern area of Virginia Beach, and transplanted in the early 1930s. The name honors Mrs. C.C. Compton, wife of a forest service employee in Natchez, Miss., and plant lover who initially brought the tree to the attention of Charles Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard and author of "Trees of North America."

The tree's size and uniqueness makes it a stand-out specimen on Colonial Williamsburg's newest walking tour "Tall Treasures," which explores the diversity of the dozens of trees in the historic area.

"It's really a majestic tree," says Jane Alling, a Colonial Williamsburg volunteer leading the tour recently. Alling, who has been visiting the historic area since 1965 and knew she wanted to retire near it, is a former librarian for the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which sponsors the annual Philadelphia Flower Show.

The tour, held 9:30 a.m. Mondays and Fridays now through Nov. 2, starts at Chowning's Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street where red and white oaks shade the brick walkway.

"English settlers found unbelievable virgin forests as far as the eye could see," Alling says.

"Over the years, because the colonists clear cut land as the soil became depleted, especially for tobacco crops, they moved further west and cut down more trees.

"Trees were cut for open fields and crops. Many of the trees in Colonial Williamsburg were planted during the 1930s restoration."

Colonial Williamsburg is home to 15 species of oak. For the colonists, oaks were special because they provided the lumber they needed to make carriage spokes, sills, flooring, wine casks, butter churns and buckets. They also sold and shipped lumber back to England

The colonists also favored American holly — its red berries and green leaves for holiday wreaths and mantle fixings, its creamy white wood for carved inlay and piano keys.

Basswood from the American linden tree was used for wood carvings, who was known as a carver for European royalty and worked on Oxford and Cambridge universities.

While laboring colonists focused on crops and utilitarian trees, wealthy colonists wanted the unusual, like the stately crape myrtle that blooms in front of the Peyton Randolph house on Nicholson Street. Crape myrtle is native to China, but George Washington makes note of the tree in 1786, according to Alling.

"Trees like the crape myrtle were a sign of status," she says.

"You had to be wealthy to get the plant because it was imported, so you planted it in a prominent place so everyone could see and admire it."

Walking past the Compton oak and the crape myrtle, Alling takes the tour group to the Palace Green where two rows of catalpas, planted 100 feet apart, frame

a view of the Governor's Palace.

In the grand sense of showmanship admired in colonial times, the catalpas give the palace a snowy white show in spring when thousands of orchid-like flower panicles hang from the trees, often peeking beneath the heart-shaped, bright-green leaves. Come fall, long bean-like pods hang like seasonal ornaments.