Tree Talk - archive

 

Southeast of busy Atlanta, tiny Oxford, Georgia is known as a city of history, community, education and trees. It was established by the Methodist Episcopal Church as the birthplace of Emory College and was chartered in 1839. Today, Oxford is home to Oxford College, Emory's historic campus, where 25 percent of Emory undergraduates experience a liberal arts intensive program before completing their Emory degrees on the Atlanta research campus. Those students also experience the joy of being surrounded by an abundance of trees.

One of the most famous trees in these parts was known as the Yarbrough Oak. Retired Georgia Forestry Commission Chief Ranger Beryl Budd estimated from its growth rings (in 2002) that the white oak took root as an acorn around 1822 in what was then an old-growth forest. It grew undisturbed for about 20 years before development sprung up around it that would create the heart of Oxford. By the 1870’s the oak’s canopy circumference was more than 350-feet. But increasing growth and traffic began compacting soil around it. The Reverend John Yarbrough (father in law of Emory’s President Atticus Greene Haygood) and his family lived in a house beneath the oak and began a long tradition of tending it. By 1929 the family passed the tree’s care to the town.

As the years passed, streets were paved, contaminants from a service station soaked increasingly compacted soil and a fungal disease entered the oak’s aging vascular system. By 1985, when Beryl Budd began his work with GFC’s Newton/Rockdale Unit and started advising the city on its care of urban trees, the Yarbrough Oak had begun to show signs of crown thinning and trunk decay. The tree was 80 feet tall, had a 130 foot crown spread and a 68-inch trunk diameter, but was undeniably declining. Sadly acknowledging the tree’s inevitable demise, volunteers gathered about 10 gallons of the tree’s acorns in 1999. They were propagated at GFC’s Flint River Nursery and produced some 1100 usable seedlings. Those seedlings were planted in Oxford, Covington, Newborn, Conyers and at the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Management Area.

On February 16, 2002, during Oxford’s Arbor Day celebration, citizens gathered to wrap their arms around the tree’s 18-foot circumference trunk and say good-bye. Some years later, Dr. Hoyt Oliver of Oxford College turned sections of the massive trunk into “resurrection pieces,” including mantles, a table, clocks, pens and bowls. These historic items, along with photographs, stories and memories, preserve the Yarbrough Oak’s legacy to this day.

Yarbrough Oak Healthy Row of Yarbrough Oak offspring
The Yarbrough Oak at its peak. Today, these Yarbrough Oak offspring along Oxford’s Wesley St. stand nearly 25’ tall.

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