Louisiana’s oldest oaks #2

Oaks east of Acadiana
It was while working on the photographs of Trees Acadiana’s top 10 live oaks that I had the inspiration to extend this work to include the largest and oldest live oaks from across Louisiana.

From my list of 17 live oaks that I’ve compiled, #1 is the Seven Sisters Oak, located in the community of Lewisburg in Mandeville, and covered in an earlier blog entry from December 2009. The Randall Oak, #2 on the list, is highlighted in two entries—one titled “The Randall Oak” in May of 2014, and another titled “Old oaks and new azaleas” from June of this year.

Edna Szymoniak Oak—Number 3 on my 30-something list is the Edna Szymoniak Oak, located at the entrance to the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Center. It is a beautiful example of a well cared for oak. Its location makes it easy for Research Center visitors to view and it receives the protection and care of the AgCenter’s knowledgeable staff.

Edna Szymoniak Oak, 35'-6

Edna Szymoniak Oak, 35′-6″; Hammond, LA

The Edna Szymoniak oak is named after the wife of Boleslaus “Bill” Szymoniak, the first superintendent of the research center station.

Edna Szymoniak Oak, black and white study 2

Edna Szymoniak Oak, black-and-white infrared study

Lorenzo Dow Oak—The next oak on my list has an interesting story connected to its name—the Lorenzo Dow Oak.

Lorenzo Dow Oak study; 36'-5"; Grangeville, LA

Lorenzo Dow Oak study; 36′-8″; Grangeville, LA

The oak is named after Lorenzo Dow, who (according to Wikipedia) was an eccentric itinerant American preacher who lived between 1777 and 1834. He reportedly preached to more people than any other preacher of his time. Dow traveled widely around the U.S. preaching “against atheism, deism, Calvinism and Universalism.” Though he lived like a pauper, traveling mostly on foot with only the clothes on his back and a box of bibles, Dow was also a successful author. His autobiography was at one time the second most-read book, exceeded only by the bible.

Lorenzo Dow Oak, Masonic Lodge Oak 2 and corner of lodge building.

Lorenzo Dow Oak and Masonic Lodge Oak #2 seen around the corner of the lodge building.

Dow traveled to the this part of the South in 1803–1804 and probably preached in or near the Grangeville area. His dramatic fire-and-brimstone evangelical preaching style (he shouted, screamed, begged, flattered, cried and challenged his listeners and their beliefs) drew crowds wherever he spoke. His wide influence and popularity resulted in many children of this period being named after him as well as this ancient oak.


Lorenzo Dow Oak, black-and-white infrared study.

Because he was often unwelcome in churches, Dow would preach wherever he could—in town halls, farmers’ barns, open fields and possibly even under the overhanging branches of these two old oaks.

The sprawling and partially overgrown Lorenzo Dow Oak is located on the grounds of the Grangeville Masonic Lodge #231, along with a second neighboring oak that is 27 feet 11 inches in girth.

The lodge is one of the oldest Masonic groups in Louisiana, with a membership that dates back to 1889, and a lodge building that was originally constructed in the 1930s (and is currently being restored). This oak was especially challenging to find since its location on the Live Oak Society registry was simply East Feliciana. Grangeville is actually in St. Helena Parish, a few miles west of Pine Grove in northeastern Louisiana.

Searching for Louisiana’s oldest live oaks, part 1

Before America was America…the 30-something club.
This year, 2015, marks 30 years that I’ve been photographing live oaks of Louisiana and 10 years since I began the 100 Oaks Project (documenting the 100 oldest oaks in the Live Oak Society). Because of these milestones, I decided earlier this year to use 2015 to track down and photograph the very oldest living live oaks in Louisiana—those trees with girths of 30 feet or more. I was already familiar with a few of the more well-known oaks in this size range, but most were still on my longer list of “trees yet to find.”

Stonaker Oak – near New Roads, LA; 29 ft. 6 in; #16 on original Live Oak Society inductee list.

Stonaker Oak – near New Roads, LA; 29 ft. 6 in; #16 on original Live Oak Society inductee list.

To compile my list, I included all Society member trees with a circumference of 26’ feet or greater when registered. I knew from experience and from discussions with arborists that mature oaks have an average growth rate of 1” to 1.5” per year. In a half-century a healthy live oak can easily grow three to four feet in circumference. This narrowed my search to fewer than 30 oaks in Louisiana that could potentially be in the 30-foot girth range.

Before America was America—According to several Louisiana arborists I consulted, oaks of this size are probably between 400 and 500 years of age (add another 100 years or more to this estimate for those oaks with a girth greater than 35 feet). That means these live oaks were likely growing before Europeans settled this continent (the earliest colony was established in 1565 by the Spanish in St. Augustine, Florida; Jamestown, Virginia, was established in 1607). Some were quite possibly growing before the name “America” was first used in print in 1507 as a designation for this continent—in other words, Before America was America.

Grenier Oak – near Thibodaux, LA; #29 on list of original Society inductee members

Grenier Oak – near Thibodaux, LA; #29 on list of original Society inductee members

The 30-something club—One New Orleans arborist I contacted about a tree’s location jokingly suggested I call my list the “30-something club.” So, I’ve incorporated that into the title of this blog entry as well and have included in this list oaks that are almost 30 feet in girth (29′-6″ or greater). To me, these venerable oaks should be recognized as cultural and historical landmarks and deserve a more significant place in public awareness—and even some minimal protection that would allow them to live to whatever ripe old age a live oak can live.

Live oak protection—Tragically, several of the oldest oaks on the Society’s registry have died, fallen off the grid of public awareness or even been removed. It’s important to note that it’s only through public awareness and human interest that a tree’s survival is secured. Currently, there are no state laws in Louisiana to protect historic or heritage trees and only spotty local ordinances that offer any protection to an oak from human removal.  I’ll cover this in detail in a future blog entry.

In the next few blog entries, I’ll be documenting my search during 2015 to find these 30-something live oaks. Here are the trees in order of size:

  1. Seven Sisters Oak – Lewisburg / Mandeville; 39′-10″
  2. Randall Oak – New Roads; 35′-8″
  3. Edna Szymoniak Oak – Hammond; 35′-6″
  4. Lorenzo Dow Oak – Grangeville; 35′-5″
  5. La Belle Coline Oak – Between Sunset and Carencro; 34’+
  6. The Governor’s Oak – Baton Rouge; 33′-3″
  7. Lastrapes Oak (Seven Brothers Oak) – Washington; 32′-3″ (largest section)
  8. Boudreaux Friendship Oak – Scott; 31′-10″
  9. Lagarde Oak – Luling; 30′-11″
  10. Mays Oak – Near Rosedale; 30′-11″
  11. Blanchet Oak – Lafayette; 30′-7″
  12. Grosse Tete Oak – Bayou Grosse Tete; 30′-2″
  13. Etienne de Bore’ Oak – Audubon Park, New Orleans; 30′
  14. Grenier Oak – Near Thibodaux; 29′-9″
  15. Josephine A. Stewart Oak – Vacherie; 29′-11″
  16. St. John’s Cathedral Oak – Lafayette; 29′-6
  17. Stonaker Oak – New Roads; 29′-6″

As I continue locating and measuring additional oaks through this year, I may expand this 30-something list, but as of September, these are the oaks I’ve personally measured and confirmed to be 29′-6″ or larger.

NOTE:  I’ve found a few oaks with girths stated to be larger than 29 feet on the Live Oak Society registry. However when I measured them, their sizes were smaller. I suspect they were simply mismeasured. Those oaks are not on this list, but will be mentioned in my blog entries that follow because they are still very old trees and fit into my larger 100 oldest oaks list.

A bit of background—For those readers who are new to this blog, my wife Cyndi and I  began the 100 Oaks Project after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept across Louisiana in 2005.  We started with the 43 original inductee trees listed by Dr. Edwin L. Stephens in a 1934 article he wrote for the Louisiana Conservation Review titled “In Louisiana I saw a Live Oak Growing” (a PDF copy of that article is contained in the “Pages” section of this blog).

Dr. Stephen’s original intent was to establish an organization “to promote the culture, distribution and appreciation of the live oak.” Members were originally limited to oaks that were at least 100 years of age, determined by a circumference of 17 feet or more, though he revised these requirements to allow registration of “junior-league” oaks with a minimum circumference of eight feet.