Down by the Old Oak Tree

Some oak trees retain their brown leaves all winter long, while others drop their leaves like all other trees. The reason is juvenility. It takes 25 to 30 years for an oak seedling to mature. Until it starts to produce acorns, the tree is in a juvenile state of growth and retains brown leaves all winter. As the oak approaches maturity, the ends of the branches near the top of the tree drop their leaves in the fall. The following year, the tree will drop more of its top leaves in autumn while retaining dry brown leaves in the middle of the tree. The process generally takes three to five years.

Before being felled by high winds in 2002, the Wye oak was the largest of its kind.

Maturation begins at the top of the tree and at the ends of the branches and progresses downward. Acorn production also begins at the top of the tree and progresses downward with each passing year.

Not all species have similar rates of maturation. Red maples mature in eight to 10 years, while beech trees require about 32 years. White pine trees generally mature in eight to 12 years, while Virginia pine require four to eight years depending on location. Trees in poor growing conditions mature faster than trees growing under ideal conditions.

Grow seedlings of Maryland’s most famous oak 

For 27 years, foresters from Maryland Department of Natural Resources had tried and failed to clone Maryland’s Wye Oak, then the largest white oak in the world. In 1999, I succeeded. Between 1999 and 2001, I successfully cloned 30 trees after having grafted well over 300 seedlings.

Just in time. The famous tree was destroyed by strong winds on June 6, 2002. After its loss, the State Forest Nursery was flooded with requests for seedlings and exhausted its supply, grown from acorns collected every fall, planted in beds at the state forest nursery and grown for one year before being packaged and sold.

Seedlings of Wye Oak clones are again available from the State Forest Nursery near Preston, Maryland. Because the Wye Oak was cloned from mature tissues capable of producing acorns as soon as the plant had adequate vigor, the clones began producing acorns within five years. 

Buy a Wye Oak seedling from Department of Natural Resources State Forest Nursery, Richard Garrett, Nursery Manager: 410-673-2467.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at [email protected] All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.