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They have stories to tell

2012 July 26
by Robert

By Ken Moore
Flora Columnist

I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t reflect on Weaver Street Market staff member Teresa Hutson’s response in February to my description of visiting the ancient hollow tulip poplar still standing sentinel in the Stillhouse Bottom Natural Area and Preserve.

Following my reverential description of feeling that we humans will never live to experience as much of life as has that aged forest giant, Teresa softly responded that there’s an aged forest sentinel tree near her home that she frequently visits. And then, somewhat timidly, she described that those old monarchs of the forest “have stories to tell and if we stand quietly enough, long enough, they’ll tell us some of those stories.”

Many trees survive lightning strikes like this one. Our fingers are crossed that Weaver Street's willow oak survives. PHOTO BY KEN MOORE

Six months later, now is an appropriate time to share Teresa’s experience and wisdom, because here in the midst of summer’s extended heat wave the Carrboro community is faced with contemplation on the town’s heritage trees.

Last week lightning struck the willow oak that dominates and shades the community’s iconic gathering place in front of Weaver Street Market.

Relatively young for such a big tree, that willow oak, most likely planted in the 1930s, grew quickly to its present stature; one does not even want to contemplate how the loss of that tree will alter the social and economic well being of the south side of Carr Mill.

The mall management has already called in professional services and the tree wounds have been treated to prevent attack from opportunistic, harmful insects during this watchful waiting period to observe how the tree responds to last week’s lightning strike. Many trees survive lightning strikes, and let’s hope this one does. Time will tell.

Back in June we learned that one of the old post oaks across from the Century Center was examined and assessed as a “hazard tree” because of considerable decay in the trunk and roots, and immediate removal was recommended. How fortunate we are that town staff decided to postpone that action and pursue additional professional assessment and input from concerned citizens.

Many factors are involved in considering how hazardous a tree with internal decay may be. For instance, it is known that some species of trees, like post oaks, stand for decades with hollow trunks, providing useful shade and necessary habitat for critters like owls, bats and flying squirrels.

In addition to the sacred hollow 200-plus-year-old Davie tulip poplar on the UNC campus, other hollow remnants of the original forest on campus continue to provide shade for students and visitors as well as protection for barred owls observed nesting in those tree cavities for several decades.

Hopefully, the Century Center post oak will be deemed strong enough to stand and provide shade for several more years.

That post oak is not alone. It is one of many 150-plus-year-old post oaks along Main, Weaver and Greensboro streets. Those oaks are remnants of the original forest, beneath the canopy of which early Carrborites built their homes on this broad hilltop we call Carrboro.

Hopefully, the Century Center post oak will be deemed strong enough to stand and provide shade for several more years. PHOTO BY KEN MOORE

Those old trees define the character of Carrboro and, as Teresa from Weaver Street Market said, “They have stories to tell.” It’s appropriate for all of us to pause quietly from time to time beneath these giants among us because, after all, “they have stories to tell.”

Email Ken Moore at Find previous Ken Moore Citizen columns at The Annotated Flora.

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