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Plano's Bur Oak Older Than Thought: New Estimates Indicate It Could Be 500 Years Old, Not 243

Renee Burke measured the Plano Bicentennial Bur Oak and reported it to be 188.4 inches around.
Renee Burke, an urban forester, measures the circumference of the tree in Bob Woodruff Park. It's 188.4 inches around. Photo by Rex C. Curry/Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News.

Published August 25, 2006 By JAKE BATSELL

 

Plano's oldest tree could have more than five centuries under its trunk – at least twice the age previously believed.

Still, everyone involved says the limb samples confirm that the Bicentennial Tree is much older than 243.

"When you have a branch that's 226 years old, the base of it has to be substantially older than that," Dr. Arnott said.

The bur oak may well be Collin County's oldest tree. But it's a young whippersnapper compared with Methuselah, a bristlecone pine in California's Inyo National Forest that has been around for at least 4,600 years.

While bur oaks are a resilient species, one rarely lasts 500 years, said Deborah Gangloff, executive director of American Forests, a conservation group based in Washington, D.C.

"That's one lucky tree," Dr. Gangloff said. "It has not only avoided the chainsaws and human problems, but also the weather."

It's unclear where the Plano tree ranks in longevity among Texas oaks. The Texas Forest Service's Big Tree Registry crowns champion trees in each species based on the circumference, height and crown spread – but not age. "We can't really keep track of how old trees are," said Pete Smith, the registry's coordinator. "We're as amazed as everyone is when we hear about a tree that's so old."

Austin's Treaty Oak is believed to be 500 or even 600 years old, and the Goose Island Oak in Rockport on the Gulf Coast could be more than 1,000.

Dating the Plano tree more definitively would require matching samples from 20 trees in the same grove, said Rex Adams, a research specialist with the University of Arizona.

Mr. Houser, whose company works with the city to preserve the tree's health, said the latest revelations inspire a sense of wonder.

"It holds the history of what occurred nearby for 500 years," he said. "Think of what was going on here 500 years ago – there were buffalo and Indians, and that's it."

"It's kind of an honor and a privilege to be able to work on such an ancient tree."

Jake Batsell's original article published August 1, 2006 was entitled "Loss of Branch May Be a Gain."

About the author

Mr. Jake Batsell

Mr. Batsell is an Associate Professor, Division of Journalism for Southern Methodist University. Previously he was a Staff Writer for The Dallas Morning News.

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