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Volunteers spent three days in St. Mary’s County measuring specimens for the Maryland Big Tree Program, adding 20 champion trees to the state’s inventory.

Some trees were remeasured, such as the Bicentennial white oak tree on private property in Park Hall, but two others measured in 1976 in St. Mary’s City have not been found yet. But the Bicentennial oak, the last of its kind in Southern Maryland, could be in trouble as gypsy moth egg cases were found on its bark.

The Bicentennial white oak, when measured in 2008, was 75 feet tall with a 79-foot crown spread. That tree was alive for the signing of the Declaration of Independence and is the last known Bicentennial tree in Southern Maryland, said John Bennett, coordinator of the Maryland Big Tree Program.

But now, the gypsy moth egg cases put the Bicentennial oak in danger of exfoliation next spring, Bennett said.

Scott Lawrence, owner of the tree, said he knows how damaging gypsy moths can be to trees and he’s reaching out to companies and foresters on how best to treat the oak. “They’re all very expensive,” he said.

With the tree as large as it is, “It’s just a huge amount to spray. I gotta do what I gotta do to save the tree. Even if I have to break the bank, I’ve got to save it. I love that oak tree,” he said.

“We measured 27 trees in three days and added 19 county champions and one state champion” during the recent survey on both public and private properties, said Gracie Brady, historic preservation planner for the St. Mary’s County Department of Land Use and Growth Management.

There were 25 St. Mary’s County trees in the state’s champion Big Tree inventory before the latest round of measuring, including the Park Hall Bicentennial tree and a Maryland state champion southern red oak tree on private property in Leonardtown.

The new state champion is a cryptomeria tree, an evergreen native to Japan, located on the private property of Ingrid Swann in Chaptico.

In 1976, there were five trees in St. Mary’s County listed as Bicentennials: an American beech tree at St. Mary’s City, a willow oak tree also at St. Mary’s City, the still-living white oak tree in Park Hall, a willow oak tree in Bushwood and an American holly tree at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The volunteer crew could not find the American beech tree recently, but they’re not ready to say it’s gone, Brady said. There is still a stand of woods to check that will take a mile-long hike on the next measuring trip this winter. “Scott [Lawrence] has the only surviving Bicentennial tree until we do more investigation,” Brady said.

Six trees were measured at Historic St. Mary’s City, said Joe Kangas, director of facilities and grounds for about 850 acres there. And he said he will continue to look for the old Bicentennial trees. “We don’t know where they are. The records are kind of unclear where they were or they’re not there anymore. I’m just going to keep my eye out,” he said.

Calvert had 11 trees on the Bicentennial list and Charles had three, “none of which has been identified as being alive,” Bennett said in July.

Across Maryland, there are still 19 Bicentennial trees.

Back in 1976 the trees were only located by address, sometimes by a post office box number or an outdated rural address. Now the measured trees are described in more detail and they’re plotted by their longitude and latitude through a global positioning system, Brady said. “That way, 25 to 35 years from now you won’t have the same problem” in losing a tree’s location, she said.

Brady, as the county’s Big Tree Program coordinator, nominates trees to be measured. “I go out to all of these old sites and I notice the trees,” she said. The property owner then grants or does not grant permission to be measured. Core samples are not taken from the trees.

The volunteer group visited 12 properties over three days last weekend.

Brady has 17 more locations to measure for the next outing this winter.

jbabcock@somdnews.com