An Amazing Tree – Part I

Photograph taken December 22, 2009. Charlottesville, Virginia.



We have an oak that, for some reason, refuses to give in to the changing seasons. Forgive the anthropomorphism, but symbolically, it refuses to give up in the face of cold and lack of light.
Here we are in the early throws of winter, and buried in two feet of snow. The magic of falling crystals has worn off, and now neighbors work together to conquer the icy barriers, the slushy slop. Winter brings this struggle, among others. The cold sends nearly everything into some state of dormancy. The light of day grows short, the cold penetrates deep, and perceptions and moods are molded by the presence of early darkness. The landscape is unveiled, the trees unclad; muddy, brown, grey, windy, frosty, icy, wet, cold.
We conquer these days with celebrations. Cultures everywhere embrace symbols of vitality and strength. The coniferous tree, the evergreen; leaves of green in the grey of winter. The cedars, the pines, the hemlocks, the firs, spruces, holly, laurel, rhododendron…among many others. These uniquely adapted trees and shrubs are our symbols of life rising up above the dessicated and withering landscape.
Well, I have seen a few other symbols around town, exceptions to the rule, if you will. They are deciduous trees clinging to their leaves, some of them green no less. Yes, green. This could be viewed as a symbol of strength and perseverance that, to me, reaches beyond that of the evergreen tree. Most of these deciduous phenomenon are non-native trees or natives that have been planted beyond the scope of their historic and wild range…like the white mulberry (non-native) , or Darlington oak (C-ville is well out of its range…there remains a green-leaved one at the corner of Park and High streets, near the Suntrust). The hickories, ashes, and poplars have long ago lost their leaves. The oaks and beeches have given to dormancy, though some cling to their brown and tan leaves deep into winter (see the image of a young red oak with brown leaves clinging to the tree), strokes of tan, gray and brown upon the wintertime landscape painting. There is one tree that is simply amazing.

I have never seen anything like it. It is a large oak, in the red oak family, growing along route 250 beside the baseball fields of McIntire Park. It’s leaves are still green, and it is just now beginning to show signs of turning colors. We have had a few nights dip into the teens! We’ve had two snows already this year and all other oaks, and all other native deciduous trees for that matter, have long ago closed the gates to the sun. “Deciduous trees drop their leaves in order to survive the harsh conditions of winter. Stems, twigs, and buds are equipped to survive extreme cold. Tender leaf tissues however, would freeze in winter, so plants must either protect their leaves or shed them.” -USDA. So, would it not be to this tree’s advantage to have changed colors and dropped its leaves over a month ago, like the rest of them? Is something wrong with this tree? My first inclination was to think that it had died, which can freeze the state of a tree; I have seen green persist in the drying leaves of a fallen limb. But, I recall this persistently green tree from last year, and the year before that. This tree is just unique, I think, and I would love to know why! It is green, and it is December 22! I believe a closer look is in order, starting with a careful tree ID.
If you get a chance, and in passing, take note of this tree along route 250 westbound. Most of you have passed it hundreds of times! It mocks winters cold embrace, and reminds one of the vitality and joy we so value in the bleakness of winter. Happy holidays!

See the follow-up story here: An Amazing Tree – Part IIAn Amazing Tree – Part III

7 thoughts on “An Amazing Tree – Part I

  1. Devin S. Floyd says:

    I have attempted about five Id's on this tree, and still without luck…
    Microclimate is probably out, simply because of the small size and exposure of this site…in other words, it is in near continuum with the other areas around it that are also adjacent to the road…and none of the oaks there have green leaves. I know the second part was a joke, but the same goes for chemical seapage.
    Right now, judging from the several keys I've used to attemp ID, it looks like this is a hybrid of some kind; and this is not an uncommon occurence in the oaks. I must say, I am very excited by the challenge…this is the first time I have been 100% stumped by an oak tree.

  2. SMP says:

    Devin – give Tim Hughes, Cville Urban Forester a call 970-3585. He can tell you more about this oak on the 250 bypass. It was planted as a memorial tree, I believe to honor Mr. Snow, founder of Snow's Nursery. Also, the willow oak you reference on Park St. near the Sun Trust Bank is actually a Darlington Oak (there are others at Maymount in Richmond.) Urban tree ID is tough because of the many cultivars available in the nursery trade!

  3. Devin S. Floyd says:

    Oh yes, SMP, we have an ID on the tree. See An Amazing Tree – Part II and stay tuned.
    A connection to Mr. Snow makes this an extra interesting inquiry. Thanks again.

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