The Johnson Elementary School Giant

Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa
The kids and teachers at Johnson Elementary are proud of there giant! Participants of Blue Ridge discovery Center’s second Amazing Trees visit were a class of third graders from Johnson Elementary School. We hypothesize that the tree is a bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and do so based on several attributes. Notably, the remains of last year’s acorns show that the acorns are huge! The nuts of this tree must supply food to a very happy community of small mammals and insects on the school grounds! The tree is an integral part of this human ecosystem. Students at the school pass the tree frequently as it is along the route to the playground. The typical habitat of this kind of tree is the Great Plains area of the United States. It is a very tough tree that can withstand both fire and drought. There are no known accounts of this type of tree occurring in the wild this far east in Virginia so it was likely planted. How long ago is any one’s guess. It is certainly one of the oldest trees in this part of town!
I wonder what the land looked like long ago when this bur oak sprouted?

This tree has quite a canopy reach. In fact its crown is the third biggest spread in the State for this kind of tree (as of 05-27-2011)! Under this broad canopy students, teachers and parents explored the habitat to see what lives with it. Under the tree and in the tree were noted a blue jay, ground bees, poison ivy, English ivy, a variety of ants, flies, several types of grasses, mushrooms, moths, violets, wild strawberries, buttercup, sorrel, some exposed roots and the sticks, leaves, and acorn parts from last year’s growth. In the tree we found eggs and small insects on nearly every leaf. It is clear that this amazing tree supports a great deal of wildlife in this schoolyard!

Participants helped BRDC staff measure the height of the tree, the circumference of the trunk, and the spread of the canopy. They also helped us take notes and fill out our data forms (thank you participants!). Other hands-on activities included exploring the details of the tree by making leaf rubbings, bark rubbings, taking photographs and doing illustrations.

Some interesting facts (this is a very tough tree!):

  • thick bark helps to protect it from fire. In fact it is the most fire-tolerant of all the oaks
  • deep taproot allows it to survive extreme drought.
  • can tolerate extreme cold
  • bur oak tends to grow slowly, but can reach 1000 years in age!
  • American Indians used the tree to treat a variety of sicknesses, including heart problems, broken bones and to stop bleeding

Participants questions (if you know the answers, chime in below!):
1) How old could this tree be?
2) Why is it growing here and what does that say about the history of the site?

One benefit of having big trees: Cooler temperatures on hots days!
Temperature under the tree, 3:30pm: 78.5 degrees
Temperature near the tree but not under canopy, 3:35 pm: 89.5 degrees

Tree statistics:

  • Height: about 77 feet (+/- 5 ft.)
  • Circumference: 147 inches
  • Spread of crown: 90 feet
  • Total Points: 247 points [Circumference (inches) + Total Height (feet) + ΒΌ Crown Spread (feet) = total points.]

How does it stack up to other giants?

  • This bur oak is the fourth largest bur oak recorded in the state of Virginia.
  • Its crown is the third biggest in the state.
  • It is tied for the third tallest Bur Oak in Virginia.
  • It has the fourth largest circumference.

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