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The Test of Time

Champion Incense Cedar planted by William B. Bell in Garland, Texas.
Donald Bell remebmers wathcing his frandfather, William B. Bell, plant this tree which is now recognized as the state's largest incense cedar. In the background is the Metroplex's largest shumard red oak. Both grow in Garland Memorial Park Cemetery. Photo by The Garland News.

Published date unknown by MICHAEL R. HAYSLIP


Standing quietly beside Garland Avenue in the cemetery near Garland Avenue are two trees now recognized as champions by the Texas Forest Service and nominated for listing with the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition. One which may be the oldest living thing in the community will shelter Garland's Arbor Day observance April 30.

The smaller tree is an incense cedar (libocedrus decurrens), which nevertheless ranks as state champion because there is none larger currently registered in Texas.

According to Courtney Blevins, regional urban forester with the TFS, this species is native to the Pacific coast. Garland native Don Bell said he remembers watching his grandfather, William B. Bell, plant the tree beside the family plot in about 1932. The younger Bell recalls that he, his grandfather and the tree rode to the cemetery by wagon from the cedar-dotted family farm south of Forest Lane within the current Raytheon/E-Systems site. He believes that the tree could have been brought by visiting California cousins.

Incense cedars are known for the aroma of their leaves as well as their wood, which is used for pencil slats, cedar chests and paneling for closet linings. This specimen obviously thrived in Garland soil, but the variety is rarely found in local nurseries today, and there are no life expectancy comparisons for this area. The cedar forks after the first 10 of its 63 feet in height and boasts a branch span 29 feet from its trunk, measuring 90 inches in circumference at the official "chest height" measuring point of 4 1/2 feet.

Neighboring the cedar about 100 feet to the north is the Metroplex champion shumard red oak (quercus shumardii). Blevins explained the the Metroplex title "means the largest such red oak in all of Dallas, Tarrant and adjoining counties, 10 in all." Standing 70 feet tall, the specimen has a crown spread of 95 feet and measures 177 inches around the trunk.

Steve Houser, president of the Dallas Historic Tree Coalition and certified arborist with Arborilogical Services, Inc. in Wylie, estimated that the massive oak is 150-200 years old, suggesting that it could have attained respectable size by the settlement began here in the 1840s. It may even have been Mexican property before the Texas Revolution.

Houser said that determining the tree's exact age would require drilling into its trunk. But whatever age it is, he concluded, the tree qualifies for certification with the Coalition, a Metroplex advocacy group for preservation of irreplaceable trees in urban landscapes.

Shumard red oaks are native and prevalent not only in North Texas but also on land eastward to the Atlantic coast. Those of this vintage likely sprouted from acorns either dropped under existing trees or planted by industrious blue jays, crows or squirrels, all of which Blevins called "notorious planters."

Jerry M. Flook, an avid local historian, longtime biology instructor at Richland College and descendant of a pioneer Garland family, added that shumard red oaks originally flourished in what experts call a "riparian forest," or a wooded creekway. Since the cemetery oak grows more than 300 feet from the banks of Duck Creek, the riparian forest along the creek may have been much wider before settlement began. The broad span of the tree suggests that it never contested for space, at least until the roadway widened.

Oaks that survived periodic prairie fires in the area were heavily harvested from the time of settlement and used for almost any wood application imaginable. Flook recalled that several oaks of this approximate size were located off Barnes Bridge Road within the Lake Ray Hubbard water line at the time the reservoir was filled. Given the possibilities, living in a cemetery might have provided the safest route to a long life for the trees.

Cemetery planners apparently worked around the oak, laying out lots so that the oak stood smack dab in the middle of an east-west walkway to Garland Avenue. But the walkway was only 3 feet wide, and the base of the tree grown well beyond that into the adjoining lots. Both the cedar and the oak grow in a roadside strip of land originally equipped with wooden hitching posts to accommodate mourners in the horse and buggy days, said funeral director Marion D. Williams.

The trees stand in what is known as the K of P cemetery, one of three adjacent cemetery sections at Garland Memorial Park, which was first used for burials in 1883. This section was opened in 1900 by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order that offered burial property but sold the lots without any provision for perpetual maintenance.

In the early years, local families gathered periodically on appointed days for cemetery cleanup, but as time passed, many of those families died out or dispersed, and upkeep became a problem.

The nonprofit Garland-Mills Cemetery Foundation, for which Williams currently serves as president, was founded in 1959, and since that time has collected and managed tax deductible donations in a fund that supports at least minimal maintenance of cemeteries on Garland Avenue, Miller Road and State Highway 66. Arborilogical Services has offered the foundation a donation of time and expertise for pruning portion of the champions' maintenance this fall, when there will be less chance of damage from oak wilt disease.

While the cemetery trees have escaped destruction from disease, drought, flood, fire and pestilence to live beyond a normal life span in relatively good health, their futures are still subject to human intervention. The oak bears significant scarring from a head on auto crash more than 40 years ago, and both trees have suffered from zealous utility trimming crews clearing lines beside Garland Avenue. But utility officials are currently investigating ways to reroute lines across Garland Avenue or bury them underground at levels drilled the root zone of the trees. Meanwhile, efforts are under way to place commemorative markers beside each tree.

About the author

Mr. Hayslip was a reporter for The Garland News that served Garland, Rowlett and Sachse.

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