Today’s Factismal: The Friendship Oak in Long Beach, Mississippi, is 500 years old.
Everyone knows that oaks live for a long time. But what many do not realize is how long that time might be. One extreme example of this is the Friendship Oak, located on the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Park Campus, which was a sapling when Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage and has grown into a 59 foot tall giant that shades more than 16,000 square feet with its foliage. But century-old oaks are so common that they even have their own society with more than 7,000 members!
But those members may be in trouble. In 1995, a new scourge appeared in California and quickly spread to other states. Known as Phytophthora ramorum, this invasive fungus attacks oaks, causing them to drop leaves, weep sap, and eventually die from “Sudden Oak Death”. Because of its sudden appearance and rapid spread, most botanists think that P. ramorum is an invasive species, possibly brought in as a hitchhiker on some visitor’s plants. But that rapid spread threatens to do to oaks what chestnut blight has done to chestnuts.
Fortunately, there are some oaks that appear to be immune to P. ramorum. Even better, their sap and leaves can be used to create a vaccine for the pathogen in much the same way that getting the measles vaccine will keep a child from getting measles. But in order to identify these immune trees and to track the spread of the disease, botanists need your help identifying infected oaks. If you’d like to help, then head on over to the OakMapper website and see how you can get involved in the fight to save the oak!