Agriculture
2:17 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Why arborists are providing TLC for the 'Big Tree'

Arborists and tree lovers from across Missouri joined together Tuesday to care for the famous "Big Tree," just South of Columbia, a Bur Oak that is hundreds of years old- and starting to show its age.

Arborists sawed dead limbs off of the Big Tree as they helped care for the champion Bur Oak.

The Bur Oak is the most photographed tree in the state and is at least 300 years old. It ties with a tree in Kentucky as the largest Bur Oak in the country.

"I drive past quite often on my way to town," said Chris Starbuck, a retired MU plant sciences professor who lives nearby. "It's a rare thing to not come by and not see somebody just staring at it and trying to grasp how big the thing is and it just kind of inspires awe."

But the tree is starting to show its age. That is why arborist William Spradley decided to organize this day to work on the tree. Spradley owns what he describes as a tree health care business in St. Louis that does this kind of work, and first started coming to see the tree during college. In the last few years, Spradley noticed the tree was starting to decline.

"I saw the canopy was dying back on this side away from the road pretty aggressively and said ooh boy somebody is going to have to do something about this," Spradley said.

In 2008, Spradley led a group of arborists to rehabilitate the tree. Back then, only his company was there to help on a similar one-day rehab project. This time, many organizations donated their time and money to help the tree.

"It's really impressive how last time we came in 2008 it was overwhelming for us to do some of the treatments but we paid for everything ourselves and donated it all and this time we are just a small part of this group today," Spradley said.

The tree specialists cut out dead limbs, aerated the ground to get oxygen to the roots, applied fungicide, and gave the tree a chemical that will help it fight insects and disease. The arborists also installed lightning rods to protect the tree during storms.

Starbuck says he knows the tree will outlast him, and he hopes people do everything they can to keep it around.

“Anything that we can do using current technology to keep it going another 50, 75, 100 years is going to be good for me. I won't be here then but it's nice to think that the tree will be."