- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

NORMAL, Ill. (AP) - The “king of the forest” is coming down at Illinois State University.

A red oak tree that is estimated to have stood near the corner of what is now Fell Avenue and North Street for about 235 years soon will be removed for safety reasons - but not without a proper send off.

“We’re here today to honor part of our history,” said Patrick Murphy, horticulturalist and curator of ISU’s Fell Arboretum. “Let this tree know that we give a darn.”

People gathered around the tree over the lunch hour Wednesday to hear Murphy sing the praises of the mighty oak and learn what is being done to preserve its legacy.

“It’s the king of the forest, indeed,” Murphy said as he described how the tree has survived more than two centuries of disturbances: buildings being built and torn down, parking lots being paved, roots being cut as pipes and foundations were installed.

But those years have taken their toll.

Struck by oak wilt and other diseases, the old oak is a hollow shell of its former self. Literally.

“There’s a void in this tree large enough for me to fit in,” said Murphy.

After a heavy rain, water weeps out of cracks in the tree’s bark and base, sometimes for days, he said.

Using a device called a resistograph, the university learned the core of the tree is hollow and there are cracks inside, Murphy explained.

“This decision was not made arbitrarily,” he said.

As if to verify the decision was correct, a large limb broke off during strong winds earlier this week, narrowly missing the Educational Administration Building.

Even the untrained eye can see bark pulling away from the tree because of advancing decay.

Angelo Capparella, associate professor of biology, whose fourth-floor office window in the Science Laboratory Building overlooks the oak, said, “I’ll miss this tree.”

The squirrels that ate its acorns and may have called it home will miss it, too. So will migrating birds who dined on various bugs that Capparella said are found on native oaks.

But, as the saying goes, mighty oaks from little acorns grow.

Murphy has used acorns collected last year from the tree to grow small saplings. Acorns also are being collected this year for the same purpose.

It will take five to seven years for the little oaks to grow into “whips” - about 5 to 6 feet tall and the thickness of a finger - suitable for transplantation, said Murphy.

Although those little oaks are staying put at ISU for now, people attending the oak’s farewell party were able to take home a piece of the tree.

A branch of the tree was cut into small sections, less than an inch thick and about 2 to 3 inches in diameter, for people to take as a remembrance. Almost 200 smaller pieces, less than a inch wide, were turned into lapel pins by Jessica Chambers, director of ISU’s horticulture center, so people could have ” a little token of the tree,” she said.

Once the tree is taken down, some of the wood will be saved for educational purposes, said Murphy. The contractor has been asked to make a 12-inch thick slice as close to the ground as possible.

“We absolutely are going to do a ring count,” said Murphy.

Capparella, who estimated the tree’s age by using a formula taking various factors into account, is looking forward to the growth rings being counted once the tree is down.

“This will be a good test of that formula,” he said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/2emPSCo

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Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com

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