- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

PRESTON, Md. (AP) — Felled by a thunderstorm in 2002, the 460-year-old state tree lives on.

At a nursery on the Eastern Shore, 1,000 seedlings from the Wye Oak, the state’s best-known and oldest tree, are being raised.

The seedlings are actually the oak’s genetic grandchildren. They were born at the 300-acre John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery, part of the Department of Natural Resources.

Each year, the state nursery grows and sells 4.5 million to 6.5 million seedlings. They help reforest Maryland land, create coastal buffers to protect the Chesapeake Bay, bolster wildlife habitat and sustain the timber industry.

Manager Richard Garrett, who has run Ayton since the late 1990s, now spends much of his time planning how to get the 20,000 pounds of seed he will need to restart the planting cycle.

Officials have been trying to grow clones of the original Wye Oak since 1999. Foresters grafted the tree in an effort to create versions genetically identical to the original.

Of 1,000 grafts, 33 or 34 survived to become living trees.

“What’s 30 out of 1,000? That’s pretty low odds,” Mr. Garrett said. “If you were just grafting any white oak, it wouldn’t be worth it. But since this was the Maryland state tree… it became worthwhile to do it.”

Mr. Garrett said he plans to plant a Wye clone in the state park in Wye Mills, where the original spent so many years. He also will spread some of them out to other state properties to protect them from insect infestations or weather problems.

When those seedlings start to produce acorns, seedlings grown from them will be 50 percent Wye Oak. The Wye Oak descendants being sold for $25 apiece through the Ayton nursery are 25 percent Wye Oak.

The 1,000 Wyes for sale this year will be the last for a while. This was a bad year for Wye Oak acorns, and Mr. Garrett has none to grow for next year.

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