- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

PRESTON, Md. The Wye Oak is gone, but it's not dead, state botanists insisted yesterday as they grafted live buds from the fallen 460-year-old giant onto 3-year-old saplings.
When the 200-ton, 100-foot tree collapsed last week in a thunderstorm, foresters from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) headed immediately to Wye Mills. They hurriedly collected stems containing fresh buds to preserve the genes of what was the nation's largest white oak.
Over more than four centuries, the tree resisted disease, parasites and weather changes, said Terry Mock, executive director of the Champion Tree Project, which works to protect and propagate the nation's largest trees. It's important to keep that gene pool actively cross-pollinating with other white oaks, he said.
"It's possible that there is something in this tree that would tolerate anything," Mr. Mock said.
Yesterday, Frank Gouin, the retired chairman of the University of Maryland's horticulture department, took the green bud wood from a cooler and crouched down next to a row of saplings at the DNR's 300-acre state nursery in Preston.
The juvenile trees just 2- to 3-feet tall are growing from acorns collected from the Wye Oak. That means they already contain 50 percent of the genetic material from that special tree, and 50 percent from another oak that pollinated it.
"It's just like an organ transplant," Mr. Mock said. "When you get a family member to donate, you reduce the chances of rejection."
Using a pocketknife, Mr. Gouin skimmed a sliver from the bark at the base of a sapling.
He then took the green stem from the Wye Oak and cut off a small chip around a rounded bud, which had formed at a joint where a leaf had been growing.
He lined up the chip with the slice in the sapling and tied it down with a rubber material more durable than ordinary rubber bands. On top of the chip and the rubber, Mr. Gouin wrapped parafilm, which traps moisture needed for the graft to take root.
"You've got to have a weak mind and a strong back when you're doing this," he said.
In all, Mr. Gouin estimates he'll graft a "couple of hundred" saplings. On about every 10th, he uses a more elaborate method known as veneer grafting, which incorporates a larger bud and stem double-wrapped in a paper and plastic bag containing a wet paper towel for humidity.
Whether the grafts take will not be clear until next spring.
State horticulturists have been grafting from the Wye Oak since 1999. About 10 percent to 20 percent of those grafted in the first two years were successful, but none of last year's crop made it, which Mr. Gouin blamed on grafting too late in the year.
"This year, I suspect we'll do better," he said, because the buds are in good condition and there is a longer "healing season" for the graft to take hold.


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