by Joan Smedinghoff
September 22, 2017
White oak leaves turn to bright autumn colors at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1, 2016. The white oak (Quercus alba) clearly doesn’t get its name from its leaves, which range in color from orange to burgundy in the fall, but from its bark, which appears white between thick ridges.
In 1941, Maryland designated the white oak its state tree, and is home to a few white oak celebrities. In Manchester, Maryland, sits the Lutheran White Oak, which got its name from the nearby Lutheran church. In 1758, King George III of England granted a charter for a church to be built next to the oak tree, which by then was already of considerable size. In 1975, it was designated a Bicentennial Tree because it was alive at during the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Now the Lutheran White Oak is over 320 years old.
Further south on Maryland’s Eastern Shore sat the state’s most famous white oak: the Wye Oak. This tree was long recognized as the nation’s oldest oak tree, having begun its life around 1540. It witnessed dramatic changes over its lifetime. American Indians lived and hunted in the area around the tree, and over time, nearby trails developed into roads that helped populate the Eastern Shore. It wasn’t until the 1900s that the tree became famous for its size and tourists began to visit. In 1940, the Wye Oak was named the largest white oak in the country by the American Forests Association, a title which it held every year for its life.
Unfortunately, the Wye Oak was not meant to last forever, and a severe thunderstorm on June 6, 2002 caused the tree to collapse. At that time, the tree measured 96 feet tall with an average crown spread of 119 feet, was 31 feet and 8 inches in circumference, and its trunk (or bole) weighed over 61,000 pounds. Now, one of its offspring grows in its place.
Learn more about the Wye Oak tree at Wye Oak State Park.