Re-visiting the Seven Sisters Oak

Though I’ve had a couple of other blog posts in the works, I couldn’t leave the 30-something project behind without a nod to the Seven Sisters Oak, the current president of the Live Oak Society and the national champion live oak tree species in the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry. And also a 30-something oak…

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Sever Sisters Oak, view from south side of tree.

Cyndi and I took a drive from Bayou Lafourche to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain this weekend to visit the Seven Sisters Oak and make some current photographs for the blog. The sky was overcast, making it possible to get good shadow detail in our photographs; and the recent rains had turned the resurrection fern a lush bright green. (We also made a stop in Ponchatoula to stock up on local strawberries and visit a couple of other local oaks – but more on that later.)

While visiting the tree, we met the current owners, John and Mary Jane Becker. The massive oak (almost 40 feet in circumference) shades much of the front yard of the Becker’s home in the historic neighborhood of Lewisburg, in Mandeville.  In our conversation, Mrs. Becker remarked how the old oak was wearing an abundance of new celery green flowers (catkins), one indication that the centuries-old tree is still healthy and vital. She also said that last year the oak produced a bumper crop of acorns.

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Seven Sisters Oak, view toward the Becker’s home.

If you missed our previous blog post on the Seven Sisters, I’ll recap some of its known history (though what we know about the oak dates back less than 100 years and some estimates of the tree’s age put it to more than 1,000 years old).

The Seven Sisters Oak is actually the second live oak to take the status of president of the society. It replaced the society’s first president, the Locke Breaux Oak, after its death from air and water pollution (see my previous posts about the Locke Breaux Oak for details).

For years, the eligibility of the Seven Sisters oak as society member tree was disputed because it was believed to be several separate trees growing together. But in 1976, after inspection by federal foresters, the tree was proven to have a single root system and it was accepted into the society—registered (#200) originally under the name “Doby’s Seven Sisters.” The tree’s first sponsor was the Doby family who owned the property on which the tree is located at that time. Mrs. Carole Hendry Doby was one of seven sisters in her family. The oak was later re-registered (#697) as the Seven Sister’s Oak by it’s next owners, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Seiler.

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(A short sidebar: From what I’ve read in other sources, this is an ongoing argument among tree-measuring folks—whether the circumference of a multi-trunk oak can be compared equally to a single-trunk tree. I take a neutral position on this topic. To me they’re all very old oaks, and as such deserve to be considered as cultural, historic and environmental treasures.)

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Seven Sisters Oak, view from outside of the oak’s canopy, showing new green catkins.

According to the American Forests’ Big Tree Registry, the Seven Sisters Oak has a crown spread of 139 feet, a circumference of 467 inches (approximately thirty-nine feet) and a height of sixty-eight feet. Its age has been estimated to be somewhere between 500 and 1200 years old.

The Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak – near Covington, LA

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Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak

While traveling to Mandeville from Ponchatoula, we stopped in at the St. Joseph Abbey in St. Benenedict, LA., just west of Covington. The abbey grounds are home to four Live Oak Society member trees including the largest, the Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak (#2464), with a girth of approximately 22 feet 10 inches. The tree is named after the Benedictine monk who was the first head of the monastery established in 1889 by a small group of monks from St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana.

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Abbot Paul Schaueble Oak, study 2

You’ll see in the photos, that several limbs of the 60 foot-plus tall tree are supported by metal braces. According to the abbey historian, the tree was damaged by a wind storm (and possibly a tornado) that swept through the area in November of 1957. The winds damaged the mid-section of the oak causing a severe split. Instead of cutting the tree down, the split was secured by heavy bolts and limb supports. So far the tree appears to have stabilized.

Note: The abbey was hit hard by rains, winds and flooding last week (3/11/16). That’s why the oak has so few leaves in these photos. The chapel and many of the seminary’s buildings were flooded and clean-up was still underway when we visited their oak.