Project catalogs historic trees

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) 8-08

An effort to catalog 100-year-old trees that provided temporary shelter for pioneers when Oklahoma became a state is still putting down roots a year after the state’s centennial celebration.

Tulsa has the Hanging Tree, where legend says cattle rustlers hung from ropes on its spreading limbs. The Whipping Tree in Wewoka was a disciplinary site for the Seminole Tribe. Garfield County is known for a wedding tree, where folks traveled across a county line to marry legally.

Landowners and nature lovers across the state nominated about 500 specific trees for the Centennial Witness Tree Project.

The Oklahoma Forestry Services and the Tree Bank Foundation joined in 2007 to launch the centennial project. They wanted to find and register trees that were growing in 1907, when Oklahoma became the nation’s 46th state.

“Pioneers had a deep respect for trees,” said Mark Bays, a forester with the state Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Some of the trees they have catalogued are on private property, in urban yards or on farms and ranches. Others grow on common ground, in parks or dotting the open prairies. Species and sizes vary, but most have anecdotes and family history. 


During the land run for the Cherokee Strip in 1893, claims were marked according to trees’ locations. Planting a tree, in fact, met part of the homestead improvement requirements, so many settlers and land run participants brought seedlings and cuttings in their wagons when they traveled to Oklahoma.

Osage orange trees have been registered as centenarians. Also known in Oklahoma as bois d’arc or hedge apple trees, they were favored wood for Indian bows.

The Cross Timbers, a huge stand of post oak and blackjack oak, grew so thick down the center of the state that settlers and later cattle drivers could not pass through.

Cottonwood, cedar and sycamore trees have grown in the state for many years. Nut trees like hickory, pecan and walnut have stood for a century beside mulberry trees and maples.

American and Chinese elms are also common, but the most famous elm in Oklahoma may be the Survivor Tree at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Bays estimated its age at between 75 and 100 years.

On the construction site of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City stands a bur oak that has proven to be about 200 years old. That dates it at 100 at the time of the Land Run of 1889.

Some of the catalogued trees are huge, having sent down roots in one place for a century. But Bays said the health of a tree, the condition of the soil, the amount of rainfall and what wildlife grazed around the tree contribute to its size, whatever its age.

A more accurate estimate can be taken by boring out a core sample and counting the rings.