#TheBigTree: The History of a 1,000 Year Old Tree

There aren’t many things in this world that will live to see 1,000, but a coastal live oak has earned the title. The tree has such a devoted following it even has its own hashtag (#TheBigTree). It has become an iconic backdrop for photos for generations of visitors to Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.

And it’s an impressive sight. Standing 44 feet tall with an 89 foot crown, its endurance is no small feat. Part of the reason it has survived as long as it has is luck, the other part, human protections. It has been named the State Champion live oak and is also one of the largest of its kind in the nation. It is simply amazing to think about all this tree has witnessed during its long life.

Read about the tree’s history in the article below.

 

Thousand-year-old tree preserved in Goose Island State Park

bigtree

GABE HERNANDEZ/CALLER-TIMES Park Ranger Janelle Rand walks around the Big Tree Jan. 13 at Goose Island State Park in Rockport.

By Esther Hackleman, Corpus Christie Caller Times, Original Article Here

Jan. 20, 2016

ROCKPORT — Hurricanes. Wildfires. Droughts. Humans. Through it all, a coastal live oak known simply as The Big Tree remains.

Rooted for more than 1,000 years the iconic tree is the darling of Goose Island State Park and backdrop of family photos spanning decades.

The tree is so beloved, it has its own hashtag — #TheBigTree — and saw about 151,000 visitors last year.

“How often do you get to see a 1,000-year-old tree?” asked Houston native Carolyn Bardin. Bardin admired the tree’s gnarly limbs and impressive crown, which spans 89 feet into the air.

The green state park sign at Bardin’s hip said the tree stood while Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda mapped the Texas coastline in the 1500s. It stood while Union troops burned the town of Lamar less than a mile away during the Civil War.

It stood while Bardin snapped a photo with her cellphone.

“We need to preserve it as long as possible,” Bardin said. “It’s showing its age.”

Long before the state began acquiring the land for the now 402-acre park in 1931, forces were at work to keep the tree standing.

The tree’s natural preservation is due in part to its location, Park Ranger Janelle Rand said.

Nestled amid a gathering of live oaks that provide a barrier from harsh winds, The Big Tree has survived anywhere from 40 to 50 hurricanes, park rangers estimate.

That protection is enhanced by the elevated land, which keeps saltwater from drowning the base of the tree though it stands near Saint Charles Bay.

On the other hand, if the ground receives less than 2 inches of rain per month, park rangers will bring out a 500-gallon tank to water the tree. During heavy droughts, volunteer firefighters from surrounding departments have quenched its thirst.

The Big Tree surprised park rangers Jan. 8 when an acorn seedling sprouted less than 20 feet from its trunk. The Big Tree sprout came after one of the Coastal Bend’s rainiest years on record.

“Often it’s hard to measure the health of the tree other than comparing it to the ones around it, but the fact that it sprouted acorns is special for a tree its age,” Rand said.

Park rangers are not the one only celebrating the continued life of the tree. Each year, the South Texas Alliance of Indigenous People gather to bless the tree. Its prayer ceremony continues a tradition of respect and awareness often lost on a generation preoccupied with technology, Larry “Running Turtle” Salazar said.

“There are lessons within the tree,” said Salazar, who has been attending the Blessing of The Big Tree since he was a boy. “There’s teachings within the whispers of the wind that so many have forgotten.”

The Big Tree continues to stand, sharing those lessons in silence with those who visit, Salazar said.

“If you stop and listen, you will feel it.”

 

THE BIG TREE FACTS

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and is one of the largest in the nation.

Trunk circumference: 35 feet 1.75 inches

Average trunk diameter: 11 feet 2.25 inches

Crown spread: 89 feet

Height: 44 feet

The wires seen throughout its limbs provide support and serve as a lightning rod.

The Big Tree has scars from a beehive and two large branches felled by a hurricane.

A fence prevents the soil from getting too compact from footsteps, which could keep the tree from receiving water and nutrients.

Source: Goose Island State Park

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