The Speed Art Museum has produced photos (see image) showing the supposedly 300-year-old tree that was removed last year to make way for the museum’s expansion. The first picture is from 1974, the second is more recent.
If that’s the same tree, it seems pretty small for a 300-year-old. That estimate originally came from U of L biology professor Tommy Parker, and he hasn’t returned messages left on his office and cell phone today.
Speed spokesman Steven Bowling says the museum estimates the tree was about 60 years old, and Yew Dell Botanical Gardens Executive Director Paul Cappiello confirmed that.
Certified Arborist Chris O’Bryan of Limbwalker Tree Service agrees with that assessment. He says he’s familiar with the tree that was cut down, and it was an English oak (Quercus robur) rather than a Valley oak (Quercus lobata). The English oak is native to Europe, but was brought to the U.S. in the 1700s by English colonists. In an email, O’Bryan added that it’s impossible to estimate the age of a tree based on trunk diameter size, which is apparently what Parker’s students were doing.
“This is not possible. Trunk growth is based on sun, water, and soil conditions, not necessarily age. This English oak was growing so fast, you can almost count the growth rings from the picture! Personally, I have seen 70 year old Douglas-fir that was 1 inch in diameter and 3 feet tall (it was growing in the shade). I have also seen a 30 year old red oak that was 36 inches in diameter, and 80 feet tall (it was growing in full sun with plenty of adequate water). Site conditions are dominant in predicting tree growth.”
A tree app created by Parker’s students was the initial source that identified the tree as a Valley oak that was more than three centuries old, and Parker confirmed that at the site.
The Urban Wildlife Research Lab’s website lays out how the data for the app was collected:
The tree survey was completed by the UWRL with assistance from students in Dr. Parker’s Environmental Biology (BIO 263) and UofL’s center for GIS. Species, diameter at breast height (dbh), crown width, height, and GPS coordinates were recorded for the approximately 2,500 campus trees. These data were then used to calculate the amount of CO2 sequestered yearly and over the entire life of the tree, the live and dry weights, approximate age, and dollar value for each tree.
Regardless how old the tree was, or what methods Parker and his students used to get what seems like a very inaccurate assessment, what’s certain is that the Speed removed a large, pretty shade tree. There may have been no way around its removal–the tree was, after all, right in the middle of where the museum expansion is going to go–but as Parker pointed out earlier this week, the whole university community would benefit from conversations about trees on the campus, and whether there’s some way to preserve some of them.