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Four Famous Oak Trees

Sara & CesarComment
Emancipation Oak / image:  Remarkable Trees of VA

Emancipation Oak / image: Remarkable Trees of VA

One of these trees was turned into a Chapel, one was a gathering place for illegal education, one has roots that won't quit after 13,000 years, and folklore says that one was the meeting spot for Robin Hood and his band of merry men.


The Emancipation Oak - Hampton Virginia

Emancipation Oak in Hampton VA / image:  Remarkable Trees of VA

Emancipation Oak in Hampton VA / image: Remarkable Trees of VA

The branches of the Emancipation Oak in Hampton Virginia stretch over 100 feet in diameter, and it has been designated by National Geographic as one of The 10 Great Trees of the World.  Its fame goes back to before the Civil War, when Mary Smith Peake, the daughter of a free colored woman and a Frenchman began teaching colored children and adults.  Mary met with about 50 children of freedmen during the day, 20 adults at night, and was said to start her classes at this oak.

She was the first black teacher for the American Missionary Association and defied Virginia law by teaching colored adults and children to read.    

In 1863 the tree got its name when the black community of the Virginia peninsula met under it to hear a reading of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, presently called Hampton University, was later founded at the site, and Booker T. Washington was one of its many students.   To read more about the tree’s history at Hampton University click here.


The Chapel Oak - Normandy, France

Rebels of the French Revolution saw the Chêne Chapelle, or Chapel Oak as a symbol of the power structure and decided to destroy it. 

When this tree was about 500 years old it was struck by lightning and burned hollow. Mature oaks can survive this kind of damage, but the village abbey considered it an act of God and set to work making it a holy site. They reinforced the branches and built two chapels inside. 

To the revolutionaries, it was a symbol of religious superstition and the “old ways of thinking.”  It was spared during the revolution only because an early marketing genius renamed it the “Tree of Reason” and altered its symbolism to one of science and the “new ways of thinking.”  To this day, mass is celebrated twice a year inside the tree, and it is the sight of an August pilgrimage.  Read more here.


The Jurapa Hill Oaks - Jurapa Valley, California

image: Marie Regan - The Oldest Living Things in the World, 

image: Marie Regan - The Oldest Living Things in the World, 

This collection of sprouts and offshoots from a dead parent tree are the remnants of an oak that may have began over 13,000 years ago.  A professor at the University of California, Riverside discovered it, and conducted a 6 year study to determine its age.  

The deal is that they are small offshoot clones from the roots of the original tree.  These shrubs produce acorns, but abort them before they can mature.  This Palmer Oak, Quercus palmeri, is the last of its kind and therefore sterile and only reproduces by cloning sprouts.  The shrubs never get very high, every 40-50 years wildfires hit this area and the tree must start over with its cloning.  It is nestled between two boulders high on an arid hilltop, near an off-road vehicles track, where very few plants today could survive.   

Rachel Sussman is creating a documentary about the oldest living things on earth and she wrote this about the Jurapa Hills Oak, 

It found a purchase on this steep hillside at a time when mastodon and camels still roamed the area, and has quietly persisted ever since, even as housing developments, a cement factory, containers filled with modular home components, and the traffic of off-road vehicles became its new neighbors. 

13,000 years is impressive, but the United States is also home to the bristlecone pines, some of which are over 5000 years old, and a quacking aspen in Utah that is... 80,000 years old! 


Major Oak - Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire England

2014 winner of "Britain's Most Famous Tree" was this English Oak of Sherwood Forest / Image:

2014 winner of "Britain's Most Famous Tree" was this English Oak of Sherwood Forest / Image:

Local legend says that Robin Hood and his men would meet at this tree. Sometimes they might hide out in its hollow trunk and torment the Sheriff of Nottingham. They say the tree is over 1000 years old, and that it has a mystical power.

What we do know is that the tree is massive- weighing an estimated 23 tons, with a girth of 33 feet and an ability to produce 150,000 acorns in a year.  Now its canopy spreads nearly 100 feet, but it was probably just a sapling during Robin Hood's day.  

However, love for this tree may actually be hurting it.  

It is so famous that park authorities had to fence it off to protect against impacted soil from so many visitors approaching it for hugs and photos.  In 1904 metal chains were attached to help support its branches- but the tree has grown around those chains.  The tree was later filled with concrete, another attempt at helping it to support itself, and some limbs were even covered with lead and fibre-glass.  

Now, no more "work" is allowed on the tree, they are letting it age slowly and gracefully.

When it snows people see Friar Tuck sitting in the trunk, fat and happy.  / Image:  BBC

When it snows people see Friar Tuck sitting in the trunk, fat and happy.  / Image: BBC