Nestled in the Eastern Shore town of Wye Mills, Maryland is the memorial and resting place of “Maryland’s oldest citizen,” a 460-year-old White Oak (Quercus alba) famously known as the Wye Oak. The Wye Oak, which saw its demise in 2002, had been a staple in the town and was cared for by numerous private owners since colonial settlement. In 1909 Maryland’s first state forester Fred Besley along with C. Howard Lloyd, a descendant of one of the private owners named Richard Bennett, measured this tree and claimed it as one of the largest white oaks in the state. Visitors began to make the pilgrimage to Wye Mills to see the tree for themselves. In 1919 the tree was honored by the American Forestry Magazine as its first “Hall of Fame“ tree and would spark the national contest of Big Tree Champions. The Wye Oak was crowned as the White Oak National Champion and would hold that title until its fall on June 6, 2002. The Wye Oak’s trunk circumference measured 31 feet and ten inches, total height measured at 96 feet, with a crown spread of 119 feet. Our largest white oaks on campus have a circumference between 10-12 feet, to put that in perspective.
In 1939 the state of Maryland purchased the land that supported the tree and in 1941 the state announced the White Oak (Quercus alba) as our state tree with the Wye Oak as the symbol. Throughout its life, arborists and community members alike made every effort to extend the tree’s life by installing cable supports, pruning off deadwood, and applying fertilizers. To the residents and caretakers, the tree became more than a state tree as it represented the times of the past and the times yet to come. From the Wiccomisses blazing the Choptank Trail to the beach tourist driving through today, the majesty and mystery of the Wye Oak lives on.
The history of this remarkable tree lives on here in College Park as well. Beyond the approximate 16,850 woody specimens we care for on campus, our arboretum inventory holds 16 county champions, 40 dedicated trees, and various USDA Germplasm species brought back from national and global expeditions. We are always welcoming of significant plant material to expand our diverse teaching collection and this year we are grateful to receive 10 seedlings of the famed Wye Oak from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Seedlings are released to the public every five years and can be found for purchase at https://www.shopdnr.com Stay tuned to the Arboretum website and social media for future announcements on where you can find these new additions to our campus community.
Written by Brandon Carbary, CPH
Landscape Technician, UMD Arboretum & Botanical Gardens