Sustaining the Wye Oak

January 07, 1994

Since 1941, when it was officially designated as such by the Maryland General Assembly, the Wye Oak on the Eastern Shore has been the official state tree. No one quite knows the age of the white oak, which is 104 feet high, has a horizontal spread of 160 feet and a trunk that measures 32 feet around. It is guessed to be at least 400 years old.

However, time is running out on this giant, one of the largest white oaks in the nation. Reports have been circulating for years that the famous tree is dying but no one knows for sure when that will occur.

To be on the safe side, state officials are preparing for that eventuality. They are in the process of selling 12,000 seedlings sprouted from the last crop of acorns the oak dropped two years ago.

The state has been selling seedlings from the Wye Oak since the 1970s. This time, however, an urgency is felt to propagate the historic oak. For that reason, seedlings were marketed as Christmas gifts. Still, thousands remain, ready for shipment from the Buckingham Forest Tree Nursery in the spring.

They have been growing in three 300-foot-long beds near Baltimore-Washington International Airport since their planting in the spring of '92.

"We want to get as many seedlings planted across the country as we can," said Michael Grant, marketing supervisor for the state Forest Service. "This may be the last chance. That is why we are acting with a sense of urgency."

Howard County residents have a good reason to support this project.

Many trees were destroyed during the county's explosive building boom of the past two decades and ought to be replaced.

An offspring of the historic Wye Oak would do any homeowner proud. In a few years, it will make a splendid shade tree.

One Southern Maryland man, in fact, reports that his seedling, which he purchased in 1976, has already grown into a 22-foot tree.

A mere $25 buys a seedling that will last several lifetimes. Purchasers will also receive a certificate of authenticity, a drawing of the Wye Oak and a written history of the tree.

This is a good cause. Wye Oak seedlings can be ordered from the nursery in Linthicum by calling 410-859-7730.

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