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ur Mission is to find and catalog each of these treasures in order to preserve their integrity for future generations - before they all disappear.
 
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The Texas Tree Trails organization is a cooperative effort of the Texas Forest Service, the Texas Historic Tree Coalition, the Trinity Blacklands Urban Forestry Council and the Cross Timbers Urban Forestry Council, among others.



  Plano's Bur Oak Older Than Thought

New estimates indicate it could be 500 years old, not 243.

Friday, August 25, 2006

By JAKE BATSELL Staff Writer and REX C. CURRY Special Contributor/ The Dallas Morning News

REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor

REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor


Renee Burke, an urban forester, measures the circumference of the tree in Bob Woodruff Park. It's 188.4 inches around.

Plano's oldest tree could have more than five centuries under its trunk at least twice the age previously believed.

Last month, strong winds pried an enormous limb from the 90-foot-tall Bicentennial Bur Oak, whose age had been estimated at 243 years.

Samples from the fallen limb suggest the tree may be older than 500 years, a local arborist and biology professor say.

"It's sad to see an old friend like this ailing," said arborist Steve Houser.

 REX C. CURRY/Special Contributor


Arborist Steve Houser dangles from Plano's Bicentennial Bur Oak as he reattaches a lightning control system that was damaged last month when a large limb broke off. That limb was used to get a new estimate of the tree's age.



"In essence, it's the oldest confirmed resident of the D-FW area," said Steve Houser, an arborist who also chairs Dallas' Urban Forest Advisory Committee in Plano, asked Howard Arnott, a University of Texas at Arlington biology professor, to examine the new samples.

Dr. Arnott found that the limb -- which had loomed at least 40 feet above the ground -- was 226 years old. That led him to calculate that the tree has probably lived for more than 500 years.

Dr. Arnott stressed that his findings, which support earlier estimates by Mr. Houser, are a "guesstimate." He concedes he is not an expert in the precise science of tree-ring research, called dendrochronology.

Still, everyone involved says the limb samples confirm that the Bicentennial Tree is much older than 243.

"When you have a branch that's 226 years old, the base of it has to be substantially older than that," Dr. Arnott said.

The bur oak may well be Collin County's oldest tree. But it's a young whippersnapper compared with Methuselah, a bristlecone pine in California's Inyo National Forest that has been around for at least 4,600 years.

While bur oaks are a resilient species, one rarely lasts 500 years, said Deborah Gangloff, executive director of American Forests, a conservation group based in Washington, D.C.

"That's one lucky tree," Dr. Gangloff said. "It has not only avoided the chainsaws and human problems, but also the weather."

It's unclear where the Plano tree ranks in longevity amo! ng Texas oaks. The Texas Forest Service's Big Tree Registry crowns champion trees in each species based on circumference, height and crown spread -- but not age.

"We don't really keep track of how old trees are," said Pete Smith, the registry's coordinator. "We're as amazed as everyone is when we hear about a tree that's so old."

Austin's Treaty Oak is believed to be 500 or even 600 years old, and the Goose Island Oak in Rockport on the Gulf Coast could be more than 1,000.

Dating the Plano tree more definitively would require matching samples from 20 trees in the same grove, said Rex Adams, a research specialist with the University of Arizona.

Mr. Houser, whose company works with the city to preserve the tree's health, said the latest revelations inspire a sense of wonder.

"It holds the history of what occurred nearby for 500 years," he said. "Think of what was going on here 500 years ago -- there were buffalo and Indians, and that's it."

"It's kind of an honor and a privilege to be able to work on such an ancient tree."

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E-mail jbatsell@dallasnews.com

 

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