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The oaks of Weaver Street

2008 November 6

Originally published November 6, 2008
Photo by Ken Moore. (Top to bottom) Leaves of Weaver Street’s willow oak, water oak, post oak and southern red oak.
Photo by Ken Moore. (Top to bottom) Leaves of Weaver Street’s willow oak, water oak, post oak and southern red oak.

Ken Moore

Months ago, a Carrboro reader, wanting verification of the identity of the Pecan, Carya illinoiensis, just outside the Weaver Street Market’s exit door, suggested an article on identification of the nearby oaks.

Following up on that suggestion, I’m happy to promote appreciation for Weaver Street’s stately oaks.

The signature tree of the market’s gathering place is that huge willow oak, Quercus phellos. Though it appears to be a giant of the former hilltop forest, it was most likely planted 70 to 80 years ago. For comparison, visit those giant willow oaks up along the university’s Polk Place, between South Building and Wilson Library. Those giants were planted back in the late 1930s. Willow oaks of lowland habitats are rapid growers in a cultivated landscape.

The two water oaks, Q. nigra, also of lowland forests, sited along the western edge of the canopied outdoor eating area, and the southern red oak, Q. falcata, out along the street side, were most likely planted in the 1960s. They are not as fast growing as willow oaks. It will be great to hear from a longtime Carrboro citizen who may recall the planting of these new trees to the old mill’s grounds.

The post oaks, Q. stellata, five to the west of the market, and that specimen that sports colored lights during the holidays, snuggled in the corner next to Townsend Bertram, are impressive. My hunch is that those oaks were not planted but are remnants of the original forest present back in the late 1800s when the original Alberta Cotton Mill was built.

Now fast-forward to present times. We all enjoy our comings and goings, our lingerings over coffee and weekly musical events. How we love the shade of those big trees, and how we take that shade for granted. Consider Weaver Street without the shade of those trees. Well, consider it seriously, folks, because our love for that annually installed and short-lived green turf and our weekly walking and dancing on that ground will lead to the eventual demise of those very trees that make the Weaver Street gathering place so special.

It sometimes can take a long while for human activity to kill a big tree, but eventually human activity will triumph. Look at the tops of our Weaver Street trees. Notice a few of those branches and limbs dying back. That is an early warning of the negative impacts of annual digging of the roots and laying of sod. Our constant carefree running and stomping that kills the sod continues to compact the ground containing those tree roots.

Perhaps we frequenters of the Weaver Street gathering place can let go of our love for green turf and call for quarterly applications of bark mulch to soften the foot traffic on those life-sustaining tree roots that lie just beneath the soil surface. Frequent application of mulch may even be cheaper than the laying of sod. And those trees will be grateful for the frequent re-laying of an organic layer softening our footprints. Those impressive trees deserve our appreciation.

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