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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Famous relative of Storm Lake tree crashes

Monday, July 1, 2002

460-year old Wye Oak in Maryland, parent of Storm Lake seedling, topples in East Coast windstorm

A member of the Storm Lake Living Heritage Tree Museum became an orphan of sorts last week, when its famous 460-year old parent came crashing down in the middle of a Maryland thunderstorm.

The Wye Oak, the oldest living organism in the state of Maryland, suffered through its final battle with the elements last week, when the 104-foot tall tree collapsed due to high winds estimated at nearly 70 miles per hour by the National Weather Service.

The tree, which was 36 feet in circumference, was one of the state's most famous and celebrated residents, and Nancy Sargent, who's mother-in-law, Bette Sargent, brought a sapling descendent of the Wye Oak out from the East Coast to the Living Tree Museum in Storm Lake a decade ago, said the toppling of the tree made headlines all across the Eastern Seaboard.

"We know people out there who said television and radio stations broke into regular programming with breaking news flashes when the news came that the tree came down," Sargent said. "It was very big news out there."

The huge oak tree, which resided in Wye Mills, Md., was believed to have been seeded around 1540, eight decades before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth and more than 230 years before the United States declared independence in 1776.

The tree was starting to show its age in recent years, as the condition of the giant had started to deteriorate over the past two decades. Area residents made several efforts to save the tree, as cables were put up to support its limbs and the core was hollowed out so inspectors could regularly check on the health of the giant.

Despite the artificial restraints placed on the tree, Sargent, who visited the Wye Oak with her husband, Craig, on the couple's honeymoon, said it was interesting to view.

"It was cool to see," Sargent said. "People could go up and touch it and really get a feel for how big it was. Everybody out there cared for that tree quite a bit."

While the 200-ton tree, which had a center big enough to accommodate two men playing cards, has passed on, its gene pool has not, as the Storm Lake tree is one of numerous descendants spread out over all 50 states. Researchers from the state's Department of Natural Resources have also collected stems containing fresh buds from the tree, and will study them to try to determine if the Wye Oak has a special gene which helped it resist disease, parasites and weather changes.

A 102-foot white oak in Norrisville, Md., was declared the successor to the Wye Oak. The new tree may soon fall too, however, as it has a crack in the trunk that is inhabited by snakes, raccoons and opossums.

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