Throughout the sweltering months of a hot summer I have viewed with apprehension the gradual decline of a tree that has claimed my interest and concern for many years. This giant is the largest Sweet Oak (Quercus mullenbergii) in Ohio. In a state-wide contest, years ago, Arthur Conrad and I entered three campus trees for consideration as to size in their species group. Our Osage Orange (in front of the Pines Dormitory) placed third in its species; our Sycamore (on the Bachelor Estate) was disqualified because of its odd shape but our Sweet Oak was rated first in size for its species in Ohio.
The gnarled trunk of this tree was measured today by extending a cord around it two feet above the ground. This string measured eighteen feet, ten inches in length as the circumference of the tree. A brief calculation, circumference divided by Pi (3.1416) gave 5.999 feet as the diameter. Since our operation does not require Olympic accuracy, we settle for 6 feet as a diameter. The great trunk is irregular with a huge lightning scar on the southwest side. (I wonder how long ago that happened?) Heavy scales of bark also stand out from the trunk adding to the difficulties of the measuring task. This tree stands about fifty feet from the sidewalk that formerly led into the Miami Stadium and some of its branches extended over the chain link fence that enclosed that playing field. Its crop of acorns has been irregular and this year shows very few. Many of its limbs are now dead and their distribution over the tree makes pruning a difficult task.
With no annual rings for counting, an estimate of the age of this giant is a real task. Two white oaks that were cut when Rowan Hall was built (mid 1940's) showed ring counts of 275 and 278 years, so this larger tree must be well over three hundred years old. It may have been standing for two hundred years when Miami was founded (1809) and most certainly wild turkeys and passenger pigeons stuffed their crops with its acorns. The Indians and white pioneers gathered the small, black fruits for food and I can testify that they are excellent eating, either raw or roasted.
The final fate of this old champion rests with the trained Forester who now heads Miami's grounds crew. I fully suspect that this tree is coming to the end of its greatly extended life cycle. Some grading has been done in the area where it stands but minor root disturbance should not be fatal. As it reaches its final demise, may it provide fuel for Miami's fireplaces as a practice of more than one and three quarters centuries is continued.
Oxford Press - August ~27, 1984