Tree company adopts Beaufort's oldest live oak

January 27, 2011 

Nick Maldonado, left, and Timmy Koon with Preservation Tree Care look for dead wood to remove Thursday from the largest live oak tree documented last year during the large-tree search for Beaufort's tricentennial.

JONATHAN DYER/THE BEAUFORT GAZETTE

A local tree-care company set out almost two years ago to find the Beaufort area's largest and oldest trees. Now, it is taking the project a step further -- maintaining the health of one live oak that likely predates the city's 300-year-old charter.

The tree sits on the former Cherry Hill Plantation in Burton, dripping with Spanish moss and towering over the grave of a slave who once worked on the property.

At almost 114 inches in diameter, or 9.5 feet, it was the largest of more than 130 trees measured for the project, said Michael Murphy of Preservation Tree Care, now a division of Bartlett Tree Experts. In comparison, Charleston County's famed Angel Oak has a 106-inch diameter, Murphy said.

The initiative started as part of the Beaufort Three-Century Project's commemoration of the city's tricentennial. The goal: Find at least one tree more than 300 years old that could have been there when the city was chartered Jan. 17, 1711.

Murphy estimated that at 350 to 400 years old, the live oak meets the criteria.

"We found it through the Beaufort Three-Century Project, so we figured this was the perfect time to come do the maintenance right as the city is celebrating its 300th birthday," Murphy said.

Although in good health, it has been damaged by lightening more than once, and it looks like an entire side of the tree fell off about 25 years ago, Murphy said."There was a lot of damage from that, which we wanted to clean up and also clear away all of the undergrowth," he said.

Preservation Tree Care crews spent Thursday doing maintenance work at no cost to the property owner, who does not live in Beaufort, Murphy said.

Murphy said the company plans to monitor the tree, which sits tucked away out of sight on private property, every couple of years and see if it can get a fence put around the grave sitting below it.

The property sitting at the end of Oak View Drive off Parris Island Gateway -- along with the rest of the Cherry Hill Plantation -- once belonged to the Bostick family, Beaufort City Councilman Mike McFee said.

McFee's aunt, Betty Bostick Haigh, sold the property where the tree grows about four years ago.

"All of my life I grew up playing over there," McFee said. "I wish you could have seen the tree in its hey-day. You cannot imagine the size. ... Unfortunately the tree is only about half as big as it used to be since it was struck by lightening."

"Magnificent" has been used more than once to describe the tree, both by McFee and others who came out to look at it during a tree symposium last year hosted by the Beaufort Three-Century Project.

Deborah Johnson, who headed the B3C effort, said although the project officially ended on ended Jan. 17 as the city celebrated its 300th anniversary, many of the initiatives will continue to live on in the community.

"I think the tree project and other initiatives will have a legacy that will live for many years in ways we can't even envision," Johnson said.

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