(South Carolina’s 1,500-year-old Angel Oak. Photo credit.)
When I think of trees, I think of the four spring-flowering Bradford Pears that made a square in my childhood backyard. How the trees formed a lane perfect for pitching baseballs (to my mother mostly). How I watched them, unknowingly, grow from weak treelings to wonderful, burgundy-leafed adults. And how they sort of watched me rise as well. Trees are markers of the changing seasons, givers of shade, reminders of time, and anchors to place.
Here are a few famous ones in the South that bring to mind the words of William Cullen Bryant, "The groves were God’s first temples."
Texas’ Big Tree
Known also as the Bishop Oak, this massive and aged tree on Goose Island is known to most as the Lone Star’s largest. Its spot, 40 miles northeast of Corpus Christi, smells of sea salt on windy days.
South Carolina’s majestic Angel Oak
Looking at the Johns Island, SC oak makes you feel like the world was bigger in another age. That this tree is only remnant. The branches grow in and out of the sandy soil like they have minds of their own. And the name doesn’t hurt the mystique, though most are surprised to realize it was the family name of previous landowners. With 17,000 square feet of shade capabilities, the Angel is most magical of Lowcountry oaks.
Georgia’s towering Gennett Poplar
If you find yourself near Ellijay, GA, stop by North GA Outfitters (706-698-4453) downtown and ask about the Bear Creek Trail off Gates Chapel Road. Twenty minutes on the trail, an easy walk for even novice trekkers, and one of the region’s largest poplars stands high above the rest of the protected Chattahoochee forest. I measured its base at 5 bearhugs round.
Louisiana’s Cat Island King Cypress
To see dreamy bayou cypresses in multitudes, I recommend Caddo Lake north of Shreveport. But to see the king of all cypresses in the state, venture to Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge near St. Francisville. In the beginning of settlements in Louisiana, cypress was the wood builders chose for homesteads, cabins, shotgun houses, and furniture because of its sturdiness and resistance to weather and bugs. Luckily, they never found this one, the largest in the state at 53-feet in circumference.
(Photo by John J. Young)
Washington DC and the Tidal Basin
Approximately 3,750 cherry trees dot the Tidal Basin in our capitol, most of the Yoshino Cherry variety. Other mystically named species
include Kwanzan Cherry, Akebono Cherry, Usuzumi
Cherry, Weeping Japanese Cherry, Autumn Flowering
Cherry, and Afterglow Cherry. I hear locals brave the DC winters with dreams of the Festival and the booming and bright cherry blossoms.
The Tree That Owns Itself calls Athens, GA home
I’ve heard of the wealthy and absent-minded man who wills his fortune to a mean old cat, but never this. Between Dearing and Finley Streets in the college town east of Atlanta, this white oak legally owns the land within 8 feet of its trunk. Or so says the legend and stone marker. The official deed papers burned in a fire, but were to have read something like this:
I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak
tree… of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the
said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection
which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has
conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire
possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all
Survivor Tree in Oklahoma City
The American Elm stands as a symbol of hope and resilience in the heart of Oklahoma City’s beautiful National Memorial. Called the Survivor Tree, the elm lived through the 1995 blast. After the bombing, debris strewn in the limbs, investigators considered bringing down the tree for processing of the evidence. Better heads prevailed, and today the Elm stands in remembrance.