WYE MILLS – A clone of Maryland’s state tree, the legendary Wye Oak, will one day stand in this village where its parent once towered, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich announced Thursday as he stood before the celebrated tree’s massive stump.
“Wye Oak lives,” Ehrlich said, “and, thanks to technology, the tree will continue to be part of our cultural and physical landscape.”
The governor also announced highly anticipated plans for the much-coveted remains of the original Wye Oak, which toppled in a thunderstorm last year.
Its trunk will be displayed in a pavilion to be built here; wood will be fashioned into a desk for the governor; artisans will be commissioned to create art out of branches, twigs and leaves that will generate funds for the pavilion and a Wye Oak museum, and the rest will be sold to the public in a lottery.
Wye Oak State Park, the House of Delegates, Maryland Senate, Talbot County, the village here and two churches will also receive parts of the tree to craft into seals and other public symbols.
The tree is also memorialized with identical genetic copies growing at the state’s tree nursery in Preston and at Mount Vernon, George Washington’s Virginia home.
Until it was felled by a thunderstorm last year, the Wye Oak was one of the state’s oldest and most venerated landmarks.
The oak was massive. It stood 96 feet tall with a circumference of almost 32 feet – large enough for 7 or 8 people to sit around a 3-foot diameter table inside. Its crown covered almost a third of an acre.
The clone developed by horticulturalist Frank Gouin, who grafted 32 living buds onto seedlings grown from the tree’s acorns before it died, will be kept in a nursery until it reaches a height of four to six feet.
“This tree is still alive,” Gouin said.
The clone was ceremonially planted Thursday, but will be returned to the nursery because it’s still too vulnerable to stand alone.
Once it is planted, it will take decades for it to attain any semblance of its parent – a 460-year-old monument to Maryland’s history.
By the 20th century, the mighty tree had established itself as one of the state’s two most famous and beloved trees – the other being Annapolis’s Liberty Tree, a meeting place for American revolutionaries, which fell in 1999.
Largely inspired by the Wye Oak, The white oak species became Maryland’s state tree in 1941.
But almost five centuries of life had taken its toll. Its inside was mostly rotted, and metal rods supporting the weight of its branches kept it standing.
Tree engineers were not surprised when the behemoth finally collapsed last year, but the outpouring of sorrow among Marylanders who had grown to love the stately oak was immediate and intense. Park Service Superintendent Col. Rick Barton said, “There were promises, there were proposals and there were vows made under this tree. And there were probably other things that happened under this tree that people don’t want to admit.”