Barbara Walters would end interviews by asking her guest what tree he/she would be if he/she was a tree. I doubt anyone ever said Bur Oak.
Being an outdoor person came in handy in the summer of COVID. One friend and I met every Wednesday to walk in Edwin Warner Park in Nashville. Our weekly loop passed by a massive tree. The size of the tree demanded attention. We would wonder, “What kind is it?” “How old do you think it is?” “Do you think it was here during the Civil War.”
The leaves showed it was an oak tree and I guessed it was at least 250 years old. Most of the oak trees in the area are White Oaks, but I was not sure about this tree. I had never seen a White Oak this large and the limbs seemed to be more like those of a Live Oak with some diving dramatically downward and others reaching out parallel to the ground. Live Oaks are only in the Deep South, usually coastal areas. There is moss on the tree, but it is not Spanish Moss.
I started with a web search. I discovered that the oldest known tree in Tennessee was cut down in 2014. That White Oak was 487 years old and was 468 feet tall. By continuing to research both the oldest and the largest trees in Tennessee, I discovered that my tree was a Bur Oak. Burs are know for their size, durability and longevity. It is not unusual for these trees to be over 200 years old and some in Middle Tennessee date back to 1650. Only Bur Oakes over 220 years have Resurrection Ferns which I had mistaken as moss.
I called the Warner Park Nature Center to ask if anyone knew about the tree. The woman I was speaking to declared, “I LOVE that tree!” She also let me know that the unique acorns were tasty. She did not know the age of the tree, but it was fun to meet another admirer.
Archaeological excavations indicate that the land around the tree has been occupied for over 9000-years. The land was proclaimed “settled” when John Davis received a 6,955 acre land grant in 1790, making him one of the original founders of Nashville. As the farm passed from generation to generation, it became known as Devon Farm. At one time it was probably the largest Devon cattle farm in the United States.
The Bur Oak stands in Edwin Warner Park next to a slave built stacked stone fence. The area on the other side of the fence is now an elite private school. The farm’s original brick home, cemetery and log cabin still stand on the school’s property.
It is incredible to imagine all that this tree has witnessed. If it is only 250 years old, that would place it’s beginning in 1770. It witnessed Native Americans hunters, John Davis building a home and fences, the rise and fall of a family’s wealth, Tennessee thoroughbreds, enslaved people, the Civil War, English cattle, Harpeth River floods and the growth of a city. I am in awe of this tree, it’s size, age, strength and resilience.
While I am unlikely to ever be interviewed by Barbara Walter’s, I am fully prepared should I be asked what tree I would be if I was a tree. Aspens and rhododendron are nice, but I’m going with the majestic witness.