Enormous Bur Oak in Chautauqua County

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Erik Danielsen
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Enormous Bur Oak in Chautauqua County

Post by Erik Danielsen » Sat Oct 28, 2017 8:48 am

Bur Oak Savanna may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of trees and forests in NY state. Many readers here my be aware, at least, of the presence of many large open-grown oaks including bur oaks in the historic Genessee valley, in which primary sources described wooded grasslands with grass so deep they could hide a man on a horse, and where the original land contracts explicitly required the preservation of a certain proportion of the landscape's large oaks. It was a surprise, then, to hear about a giant Bur Oak in an opening right in Chautauqua County, at the westernmost tip of the state.
Slightly distorted panorama attempting to capture the feel of the tree.
Slightly distorted panorama attempting to capture the feel of the tree.
This tree is located on a farm near Jamestown, NY. The property owner is proud of his tree, but prefers that the exact location be kept private. The site is also known to local botanists as an interesting spot. Jamestown naturalist Jim Berry was kind enough to bring me to visit, and had ample knowledge of the site's ecology to share. The Bur Oak is right at the edge of a somewhat riparian woodlot consisting mainly of younger trees. The predominant tree by the numbers appeared to be Black Cherry, but additional species included more Bur Oaks, hawthorn, butternut, trembling aspen, sycamore, and scotch pines most likely dispersed from a nearby reforestation patch. Despite the overall "young" character of the woodlot the herbaceous understory is rich and fairly intact (though with invasive multiflora rose, honeysuckle, and garlic mustard quite successful) and particularly notable for a large population of Sessile Trillium, rare in this region.
The setting of the tree, surrounded by fields in hay rotation.
The setting of the tree, surrounded by fields in hay rotation.
The tree is a sight to behold. Brush obscures the base from a distance, but standing in the vicinity of the trunk one is essentially engulfed by its spreading crown. By the numbers:

101.5' tall - 24.1' circumference at narrowest point below fusion (2' high)/largest stem 11.2'cbh above fusion influence (5' high) - ACS 94.6' (16 spokes)/122' max spread
Jim standing by the trunk for scale.
Jim standing by the trunk for scale.
This behemoth tree's 414.4 hypothetical big tree points handily outclasses the listed NY co-champs- but as can be seen, this tree is a definite multistem, with at least three and probably four distinct piths that do not converge (we'll see if the other two trees are multis as well). My suspicion from examining other similar trees in various states of development is that this would have originated as a stump coppice, with the piths of the existing stems terminating wherever the original cambium of the parent stump would have been. Most likely this would have been a decent-sized tree itself. The existing stems seem well within the range of likely age for this to have occurred sometime in the early settlement of the region, and maybe be between 150-200 years old. As a clonal organism, the entire thing could be a century or two older.
Rear view, showing the lowest point of fusion.
Rear view, showing the lowest point of fusion.
Driving over the hills and valleys of chautauqua county lately I've been contemplating the heterogeneity of the landscape and how many unbroken tracts of land consist entirely of cleared farm and strips of young forest. Undoubtedly, habitats like oak openings would have been part of the patchwork of habitats present in the region. This region is excluded from the classic range map of Bur Oak, but this population clearly predates the gathering of data by which that map was made. Some of the region's biotic complexity has been "erased" in a sense by post-settlement land use practices, but here and there are hidden refuges that hint at a fuller picture of the past.

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Lucas
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Re: Enormous Bur Oak in Chautauqua County

Post by Lucas » Sat Oct 28, 2017 1:32 pm

Good Report. I love your eco-context descriptions.

I was in the area once but would not be able to realize l what I was seeing then.
We travel the Milky way together, trees and men. - John Muir

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Larry Tucei
Posts: 2014
Joined: Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:44 am

Re: Enormous Bur Oak in Chautauqua County

Post by Larry Tucei » Wed Nov 01, 2017 3:54 pm

Erik- A really large Multi-Trunked Burr Oak! Beautiful tree and great example of how some species will grow multiple trunks be it from a past cut or several seeds. Larry

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