For $25, the state of Maryland is selling Christmas gifts that last a lifetime. Make that several lifetimes.
Planted in two neat rows at the Buckingham Forest Tree Nursery in Harmans are what may be the last saplings from the 450-year-old Wye Oak, the nation's largest white oak. State officials are hoping to seed the country with them.
Experts believe that before an oak tree dies, it produces one last load of acorns, said Michael Grant, marketing supervisor for the state Forest Service. Two years ago, the Wye Oak dropped acorns from which 12,000 seedlings sprouted. No acorns have fallen since.
The Department of Natural Resources is selling those seedlings as a way of preserving Maryland history.
Plant them in March and it may take several generations before a tree such as the one on the Eastern Shore flourishes. In 10 years, it could be a nice shade tree.
"We want to get as may seedlings planted across the country as we can," Mr. Grant said. "This may be the last chance. That is why we are acting with a sense of urgency."
Though reports have circulated for years that the famous tree is dying, state officials say there is no way to tell for sure. Before dropping acorns in 1991, it hadn't produced any seeds since 1985.
"The tree is 450 years old," said Richard A. Garrett, the manager of the Buckingham Forest Tree Nursery. "It will have to die sometime. Whether that's one year, 10 years or 100 years, there is no way to tell when it will happen."
The state has sold seedlings from the Wye Oak since the 1970s; in fact, several thousand have been shipped to just about every state in the nation. But this is the biggest push yet. The seedlings will be packaged and shipped to buyers in March or April. About 50 have been sold to people across Maryland and in Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Vermont. The seedling comes with a card inscribed: "A piece of history is yours to grow."
The seedling will be sent in March along with a certificate of authenticity, a drawing of the Wye Oak and a written history of the tree.
The Wye Mills tree has a 103-foot breadth, a 31-foot circumference and casts a 145-foot shadow. It is listed on the American Forestry Association's list of big tree champions -- it has been the national champion for the past 50 years.
Mr. Grant said he got a call from a man in Leonardtown who bought a seedling in 1976 and now has a 22-foot tree in his yard. Several others have offered acorns from their offspring to the state.
Anyone interested in buying a Wye Oak seedling or any of many tree species the state offers may call the Buckingham Forest Tree Nursery at 859-7730. Wye Oak seedlings also may be bought in bulk for lower prices.