Louisiana’s oldest oaks #4 – Ascension Parish

Ascension Parish and Upper River Road

Ascension Parish has always been a sort of blank spot on my live oak radar. Before I began this 30-something series, I was unaware of the number of live oaks that live there. So, I’ve been surprised and delighted to have located several old and beautiful trees that have led otherwise low-profile lives in this historic parish.

The Martin Oak study 1 – 35' 6" in circumference

The Martin Oak, Gonzales, LA – 37′ 8″ in circumference

I’m not sure if I’ve emphasized enough in my earlier blogs how rare it is that 30-something-foot girth oaks have survived all of the changes that have taken place on the Louisiana landscape in the past 300 years. In her invaluable reference book, Louisiana Live Oak Lore, Ethelyn G. Orso describes the process of “live oaking,” a fairly common practice in the past in which woodsmen would cut live oaks and sell the wood to supply the wooden ship industries of Britain, France, Spain, and the United States.

The Martin Oak trunk and burls

The Martin Oak trunk and burls

Here’s an excerpt from her book on the subject:

“As early as 1709, shipwrights recognized that the near impenetrable wood (of the live oak) was perfect for timbers and ‘knees’ for vessels. ‘Knees’ were the angular sections of wood taken from the joints between tree limbs and trunks. Such natural joints were stronger than any artificial joints made by shipwrights, and braced the sides of the ships… For the European governments that controlled Louisiana in that early colonial period, live oak wood was the state’s most prized natural resource.

Having practically deforested the European continent in search of the indispensable oak wood for their fleets, British, French, and Spanish rulers looked with greedy eyes to the vast expanses of live oak forests in the southern parts of what would become the United States. Those European governments that gained control of the part of ‘West Florida’ that today is eastern Louisiana claimed the live oak forests as state-owned resources. That led, by the mid-1770s, to a thriving illicit trade in live oak wood between the inhabitants of the area and whoever would pay for the poached wood. In 1811, after Louisiana had become a part of the United States, Louisiana Governor William C. Claiborne began communicating with the secretary of the navy in Washington, DC, and in 1817 an act was passed giving the president of the U.S. the authority to reserve lands with live oak forests for use by the U.S. Navy.”

It was hard times for large live oaks in those early years of the colony and the oaks that survived the wooden-ship era were still faced with widespread clearing of lands for farming and ranching as well as eventual urban development. So, when I express respect and even awe at the few oaks that have managed to survive (and flourish in some cases) after 300+ years of cutting and clearing, you can understand why.  Now, on to the 30-something oaks of Ascension Parish:


The Martin Oak, vertical view of trunk

The Martin Tree—(See photos above as well) #1405 on the Live Oak Society registry, this tree was registered with a circumference of 34 feet by Ms. Delba E. Martin. She was born in 1906 and passed on in 1995. With help from the Ascension parish assessor’s office, I was able to locate the property that was once owned by Ms. Martin and the tree is still there.

The shape of the tree trunk is similar to the Rebekah Oak and others—it has a very large burled lower trunk that tapers above 5–6 ft. from the ground. Generally, this is above the 4–4.5 ft. line where one would measure the girth, but with trees like this, I take multiple measurements above and below the 4.5 ft. line and make an average measurement. My estimated girth of this oak is approximately 37’-8″ and still growing.

John Hudson Oak, 29'-8" – Prairieville, LA

John Hudson Oak, #6350 – 29′-6″ – Prairieville, LA

The John Hudson Oak is located in Prairieville, LA at the Hudson House, a beautiful historic family home that’s been in the Hudson family for several generations. The John Hudson Oak is the largest and most impressive of numerous live oaks on the grounds. It has a lovely sweeping canopy that reaches to the ground on three sides. Mrs. Ellen Hudson Waller says that several other oaks on her property are Live Oak Society members.

John Hudson Oak, black-and-white study 1

John Hudson Oak, black-and-white study 1

Hudson Oaks; black-and-white infrared study of two other Live Oak Society trees on Hudson property.

The Joseph Romano and Angelle Romano Oaks; Hudson House, Prairieville, LA.

In my next post, I’ll include the rest of the Ascension Parish list of oaks…

Louisiana’s oldest oaks – back to Lafayette

I’ve tracked down some wonderful 30-something oaks since my last blog post. The two oaks in this post are in the Acadiana area and were listed in the Trees Acadiana’s Top 10 oldest oaks list, but were a bit challenging to track down. No one had seen them in decades. The Rebekah Oak in Breaux Bridge was originally registered with the Live Oak Society by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Dermenstein Sr., probably back in the 1960s based on the tree’s low registration number (#681).

Rebekah Oak, color study 5

Rebekah Oak, color study 5 – 34′ in circumference

When registered, the Rebekah Oak was listed with a girth of 30 ft.  Today, the tree is approximately 30′ to 34′ in circumference, though the “bustle” shape of the tree’s trunk below about 5-6 ft. high makes it difficult to get an accurate measurement.

The Rebekah Oak was named after the granddaughter of the original sponsors.
Mr. Dermenstein passed on in 2001 and his wife followed him in 2014. Today, the oak’s caretaker is R.J. Dermenstein Jr. who still lives on the property where the tree is located in Breaux Bridge and could easily be mistaken for Kris Kringle on a Harley Davidson if you didn’t know better.

Rebekah Oak, infrared black and white study 4

Rebekah Oak, infrared black and white study 4

The oak appears to have been a “boundary” oak, meaning it served as a dividing marker between two property lines. The fence line between the Dermenstein property and his neighbor’s land runs directly through the Rebekah Oak’s trunk.

The next 30-foot girth tree in the Acadiana area is the La Belle Colline Oak.

I photographed La Belle Colline (in French, the name means “the lovely hill”) about an hour after sunrise in late September. This ancient oak overlooks a lush grassy pasture that slopes slowly away toward a distant line of trees where I could see cows grazing.

True to its name, La Belle Colline offered a beautiful view from beneath its wide-spread limbs toward what I suppose can be considered a “hill” in south Louisiana. Based on its location, and the intersection of four fence lines near the oak, it was probably used as a boundary marker years ago to designate where one property line ended and another began. The oak was registered with the Live Oak Society (#2219) by Camille Durand “Mamille” Johnson-Foret, and the land where the tree resides has been in the Johnson family for several generations.


La Belle Colline v 8

La Belle Colline and distant “hill”

Mrs. Johnson-Foret was the stepmother of St. Martinsville arborist, Jim Foret who I’ve mentioned in past blog posts (Jim helped me to measure and photograph the St. John Cathedral Oak back in August of this year). Jim is an excellent arborist and resource for information on the care and maintenance of old oaks as well as a great tree-friend.


Next blog post, I’ll move on to Ascension Parish.