Historic Oak, estimated at least 400 years old, topples with storms
Published October 27, 2023, by SUSAN MCFARLAND
When Steve Houser learned storms destroyed his favorite oak tree this week, it broke his heart.
On Thursday the Quadricentennial Bur Oak, located in Bob Woodruff Park, fell. The tree was known as the oldest and largest tree in Plano and North Texas, and a treasure to the community and to those who cared for it.
"It’s a little bit emotional because I felt such an attachment to this tree. It was by far and away my favorite, and the oldest around,” he said. “And now it’s laying on the ground and in pieces. It’s difficult to deal with.”
The scientific name for the tree is Quercus macrocarpa. It stood 90 feet high and had a circumference of 15 1/2 feet, according to a city news release.
“Think of all the history this tree has stood witness to. It was here when the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787,” according to the news release.
Houser said the tree was already leaning and was located in a floodplain, which caused the fall.
“It was underwater the night before last because of the 6 or 8 inches of rain that we added in a short period of time,” he said.
Plano's quadricentennial bur oak tree in Bob Woodruff Park South is 400 years old. The tree has received special treatment to help keep it thriving. (Photo courtesy of city of Plano screenshot).
Houser is not only an arborist, but a tree climber who has spent many a day up in that tree.
“When I’m up in a tree, especially a large old tree like this, you get certain sentiments from the tree, about its character and its personality,” Houser said. “I can be upset with the world or the family or whatever, but if I get up in a tree, by the time I come down all that animosity and friction is gone. Trees kind of take that away.”
Houser said being in the tree, especially when he is out on the ends of the limb, it sparks his imagination of times past.
“The winds blowing, rocking me back and forth, I get the feeling that there’s this ancient old lady, kind of rocking me in her arms. I think back about a tree that’s more than 400 years old. It’s a living witness to the history of the area. And I get these visions of Indians camping underneath it or doing their dances around the campfires and telling stories and things like that,” Houser said. “So, there’s a lot more to this tree than just being a large old tree. It has quite a history that goes along with it. It’s just devastating to me.”
Marc Beaudoing, Plano’s urban forester, said in 2006, a large branch fell from about 45 to 50 feet high. From that portion of the tree, a tree cookie was brought to a scientist at the University of Texas at Arlington for analysis, which revealed that one branch was more than 200 years old.
“And so based on the estimation, since that branch is 50 feet high in the air, the tree is at least 400 years old, possibly 500 years,” Beaudoing said.
The tree has been under the city’s care for years, with Houser’s help.
About a year and a half ago, a severe storm caused twisting and a fracture in the trunk of the tree, so crews installed a metal brace for the tree.
The crack was significant, going through 60 of the 67 inches of the tree’s diameter. The tree was also leaning, so it needed support.
Beaudoing said after a risk assessment, the city put fencing up around the tree for safety.
“When we look at risk, especially in the park system, the No. 1 thing we look at is the safety of residents,” he said.
Beaudoing said wood from the tree would be repurposed.
“It’s not going to be shipped to the landfill,” he said.
City officials are in discussion about ideas for the wood, which include anything from tree cookies to making items such as pens or coasters to use as gifts for important milestones to city workers or visitors.
“It’s just a sad day,” Beaudoing said. “Everyone’s really, really sad about it."