The Wye Oak: Remembrance and Renewal

For 460 years, the Wye Oak stood in the village of Wye Mills in Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. When the Ark and the Dove landed at St. Mary's City in 1634 to found the colony of Maryland, the great tree was already almost 100 years old. Native Americans, believed to be the Wiccomisses, lived and hunted in the area, and the Choptank Trail, which eventually became a major route in the development of the Eastern Shore, was nearby.

The tree was owned by a succession of private owners over the centuries and was purchased by the State of Maryland in 1939. In 1941, the white oak (quercus alba) was declared to be the Maryland State Tree. The Wye Oak has long been recognized as the largest white oak in the United States, and it was one of the last of the original "Champion Trees" when it fell during a thunderstorm on June 6 of this year. The core of the tree was so rotten that pieces of it felt more like cork than oak.

In its final years, the Wye Oak was supported by miles of this cabling. When the Wye Oak fell, it had just begun to produce a new crop of acorns. Some of the buds from the tree are being used to clone it. In April, a sapling cloned from the Wye Oak was planted on the grounds of Mount Vernon and other clones are being nurtured for future planting around the state and the nation.

An unusual feature of the Wye Oak was its huge "knees," or buttresses. No one is sure how they came to be formed, but it has been speculated that, at one time, an old country store was located near it, and the hooves of horses tied to the tree may have caused damage to its roots, resulting in these malformations. However they were formed, the buttresses were a blessing, as they helped to support the enormous tree.

Wye Oak Facts:
Until June 6, 2002, the oldest and Largest White Oak in the United States
Age: 460 years Height: 96 ft.
Circumference of trunk: 32 ft.
Diameter of trunk: 10 ft.
Spread of crown: 119 ft.
Crown covered one-third of an acre
The White Oak (quercus alba) declared the Maryland State Tree in 1941

Prepared by the Maryland State Archives with assistance from: The Department of Natural Resources; The Department of Agriculture; The Governor's Press Office.


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