Friday, February 21, 2014

The Monarch of the Woods - Bur Oak


In 2001, as a college undergraduate, I started working for the Committee on Natural Areas at the University of Illinois.  One of my responsibilities was to record tree falls that occurred in University Research Forests, one of these sites, Brownfield Woods, quickly became my favorite! Brownfield Woods is a 60 acre remnant of the original “Big Grove” prairie grove present in Champaign County, IL pre-settlement. Although Brownfield has a history of very selective timber harvest and cattle grazing it is often referred to as “virgin”.  My first encounter with the Monarch of the Woods came in 2001 and it has been one of my all-time favorite trees ever since.  At 71” diameter at 4 ½ feet above the ground (DBH) it is the largest tree in the forest.

The 2nd largest tree in the forest, another bur oak fell on April 2, 2006 it was 70” DBH, a cross-section of the tree ages it somewhere around 380 years old.  To put that into some historical perspective – the acorn that produced this tree germinated around 1626; less than 10 years after the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts.

In 1926 C.J. Telford authored a paper on Brownfield Woods and at that time the largest tree in the forest was the same tree that holds that place today.  Telford called this tree the Monarch of the Woods and it still is today, in 1926 it had a DBH of 65” and over the last 88 years it has only added 6” of trunk diameter.  Below is a photo of the Monarch in 1926 and one taken this month (2014).

It is hard to get the feel for how big this tree is especially considering it is a forest grown specimen not an open grown tree.  Here is a panoramic self-portrait made from 5 photos of the tree and I.
Here is another sketch I made of the base of the tree showing the mossy base, areas of smooth patch fungus (harmless) and of course the large burl that is about 8-9 feet up on the trunk.