ANNAPOLIS – In the two years since Maryland’s record-setting Wye Oak died, the tree has yielded furniture, ornaments, landmarks and gavels, all imbued with a trace of history.
This season, the fallen giant offers its latest gift – its own grandchildren.
In a fashion befitting Shel Silverstein’s giving tree, the oak’s two-year-old grandkids (grown from the acorns of the seedlings grown from the acorns of the original tree) are available through the John S. Ayton Tree Nursery in Preston.
“There’s an amazing number of people that connected to that tree,” said Richard Garrett, manager of the nursery operated by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Nearly 100 people this fall have already bought the seedlings, which are only 25 percent pure Wye Oak.
The original tree, once the largest white oak in the country, fell victim to high winds on June 6, 2002. It was 460 years old, 96 feet tall and 32 feet around – its branches spanned one-third of an acre.
“For most folks it was a unique piece of Maryland,” said Garrett, “I talked to people that wouldn’t visit the shore without going by there.”
Thousands of people regularly visited the tree in Wye Mills when it was standing, said DNR forester Stark McLaughlin, and “they’re still going by and looking at the stump.”
The sense of history, of longevity, he said, appealed to people.
The tree was supposedly a common horse hitch and meeting area for early settlers in Eastern Maryland, though the oak predated their arrival.
Its historical significance has prompted other efforts outside the nursery project to replicate the tree. Two seedlings cloned from the original were planted at Mount Vernon in 2002, and the DNR sold hundreds of the tree’s relatives this past spring.
“People just respond to historic trees the way people respond to antiques,” said Susan Corbett, communications director for the American Forests Historic Tree Co. “It’s something that has a legacy, it’s special and it has a story to tell.”
Corbett’s company, in Florida, used to sell the offspring of the Wye Oak before it died, and it continues to sell the relatives of other historic trees.
The big sellers, said Corbett, include descendants of the Johnny Appleseed Apple Tree, the Elvis Presley sweet gum and the seeds that were aboard Apollo 14’s launch to the moon.
“You can always kind of imagine what they saw,” said Corbett.
The DNR’s seedlings, though, are just the latest in a long line of Wye Oak keepsakes.
Thursday, Gov. Robert Ehrlich unveiled a desk for the State House crafted from the tree’s wood, sculpted over the summer using 18th century methods.
This past May, the state offered thousands of the tree’s pieces to artists and residents.
And Nature’s Creations jewelry store in Rockville recently issued a new line of copper-coated leaves from the original tree.
“It’s just got such a fantastic history,” said Dennis Ray, managing designer for the store.
The tree first received national attention in the early 1900’s, after Maryland’s first state forester measured the oak. American Forestry Magazine later listed it in its Tree Hall of Fame, and in 1939 Maryland purchased the giant from its last private owner.
Garrett doesn’t suspect his seedlings will grow as large as their proud progenitor. He says the undisturbed conditions that allowed the Wye Oak to grow as big as it did no longer exist.
“It’s a rare tree that’s left alone for 400-500 years anymore,” said Garrett.
Wye lovers seeking this rarity can call the nursery at 1-800-873-3763 to order the $25 seedlings.