White oak, slow of growth, best for a monument
By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Posted: Tuesday, January 20, 2009 8:01 pm
“A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.”
Some trees grow at (relative) warp speed, while others crawl toward maturity at agonizingly deliberate rates. Nearly everybody plants one of the former, despite the fact that such specimens will, sooner or later (mostly sooner) be beset with all kinds of ills.
Most of us are impatient. We want results now, if not sooner. “Old Mister Can’t Wait,” my mother used to call me. I’m not alone. In the present case, not too many people past middle age (that’s 35, not 55) want to plant a tree in whose shade they will never sit.
However, there occasionally comes a case of tree planting when we are freed from the onus of needing quick results. That is, when we know at the outset we’re planting for posterity, not ourselves.
Maybe it is a tree for a loved one’s gravesite, or maybe we’re planting up one for a child or grandchild to enjoy in the golden years. Then we can, without rue, heave to the task at hand and set out something like, say, a white oak.
Well, that’s the first thing to come to mind. After all, the majority of centenarian trees native here are white oaks or their derivatives. In fact, any white oak found growing on a dry hillside and more than two feet in diameter is surely far more than 100 years old and possibly twice that. They are that slow. There are extant as we speak white oaks within the city limits that are older than Paris itself, or even Henry County.
With slowness comes strong wood. Seldom is a white oak damaged by wind or other mishap, and seldom is one killed by drought. A white oak’s roots delve deep and hold like an anchor in the face of storms.
Native from Maine to Florida, the white oak is such an institution in this country that famous treaties have been signed under notable ones and the tree used as a landmark for years, even centuries. (Note the “treaty oak.”)
A bit of searching will turn up a white oak in some nurseries, though the demand is small, considering their slowness. Nevertheless, there isn’t much better choice for the nearest thing to a permanent tree.
Most years white oaks offer a nice but understated fall foliage color of beige to russet red. In spring, the unfolding leaves start out silvery, morph into the palest green, the on to full, dark green for the remainder of the growing season. The tree’s bark, as the years wear on, takes on a rugged, pale gray, corrugated appearance that is intensified as a low winter sun creates shadows among the shards of bark.
There are a few other long-lived trees, including other oaks, that can fill the bill for a monumental planting, but none perhaps as qualitatively as the white oak.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 1.20.09