- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The records of big trees or old trees in Charles County are not as solid as an oak.
Identifying big trees and old trees requires residents and organizations willing to take the time to have measurements done and records kept.
“There’s nobody in Charles County working to identify them,” John Bennett, volunteer coordinator of the Maryland Big Tree Program, said of the lack of records for Charles County big trees.
Mary Pat and Jim Berry of Port Tobacco had their Southern red oak identified in 2010. As a former member of the Charles County Forestry Conservation Board of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Mary Pat Berry said she was familiar with the process of measuring trees and the importance of recording measurements.
“We enjoy it every day,” Mary Pat Berry said of the tree that measured 371.1 points. “This guy has been here for awhile.”
Trees are assigned points based on a formula involving measurements of the trunk at chest height, the spread of the branches and the height of the tree.
Despite recent tropical storms and a derecho, Mary Pat Berry said, the 126-foot-tall tree is still standing to the left of her driveway. She can see it from her kitchen window.
“It’s still quite tall, quite large and quite wide,” she said of the red oak that stands on her 39-acre property. Berry said that her property is half pasture and half wooded, with some marsh area.
The Berrys have lived on the property for 13 years, and Mary Pat Berry said she has a couple of other trees she would like to have measured.
“Charles County has never had a big survey of trees,” she said.
She said that when a big tree is registered, the owner receives a certificate from the state. The red oak serves as a nice conversation piece for her and her husband, and also educates their two grandchildren about trees.
While core drilling would be necessary to accurately determine the tree’s age, Mary Pat Berry said she believes it to be more than 100 years old because of its girth. She said she cannot wrap her arms around the tree’s 17 feet, 11 inch circumference.
“We’re just happy it’s here, and do our best [to take care of it],” Mary Pat Berry said.
According to Bennett, the Berrys’ red oak is in the top 10 biggest of its species.
A cherry bark oak in Chapman State Park is recorded as a state champion, and another Southern red oak stands on the Naval Support Facility Indian Head.
“I’ve always tried to ensure it’s not pruned or impacted by any type of development,” said Seth Berry, who has been natural resources program manager for NSF Indian Head for 10 years.
Berry said that in 2010, the tree measured 89 feet high, had a circumference of 17 feet, 9 inches and measured at 327 points. Berry said that the naval base’s red oak is not the largest red oak in the county.
Since it was recorded, Berry said, the tree has sustained some damage from storms, including a broken branch.
The red oak, which stands near the eastern shore of the Potomac River, is unique for its size, but Berry said there are other large trees on the naval base that have not yet been measured. He estimates the red oak is 150 to 200 years old and that it may have been an original tree on the farm that existed before the naval base.
In 1976, for the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Bennett said, each state asked counties to appoint Bicentennial Committees and identify local trees. Howard County was found to have more than 50 bicentennial trees, but only three were found in Charles County.
Two white oak trees privately owned in La Plata and one Southern red oak tree near the Potomac River on land owned then by electric utility Pepco were identified.
Bennett said he would not be surprised if the white oak trees were still alive, because they have a reputation of living a long time. However, he said, he heard that the red oak was dead.