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Long Island's Big Trees: The Long Island Horticultural Society "Big Tree" surveys


The Heart of the Tree

by Henry Cuyler Bunner - 1855-1896


What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants a friend of sun and sky;

He plants the flag of breezes free;

The shaft of beauty, towering high;

He plants a home to heaven anigh;

For song and mother-croon of bird

In hushed and happy twilight heard—

The treble of heaven's harmony—

These things he plants who plants a tree.


What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants cool shade and tender rain,

And seed and bud of days to be,

And years that fade and flush again;

He plants the glory of the plain;

He plants the forest's heritage;

The harvest of a coming age;

The joy that unborn eyes shall see—

These things he plants who plants a tree.


What does he plant who plants a tree?

He plants, in sap and leaf and wood,

In love of home and loyalty

And far-cast thought of civic good—

His blessings on the neighborhood,

Who in the hollow of His hand

Holds all the growth of all our land—

A nation's growth from sea to sea

Stirs in his heart who plants a tree.


2nd grade class from the Christian Ave. School pose under the branches of the Lubber St. Oak, 1943.

Many in the community were heartbroken when, in September 1979, the iconic Lubber St. Oak in Stony Brook was taken down by the Town of Brookhaven. Controversy overshadowed its accidental removal and the age of this tree has always been a point for discussion. All that remained of this White Oak was the tree’s base when a plaque was added in 1983 dedicating the park to the memory of this landmark tree. For generations, this White Oak stood on Lubber St., its exact age could not be determined, but it was said to be over 300 years old and the oldest White Oak on Long Island.


Edward Lapham in his 1942 book Stony Brook Secrets contemplates the old oak as he describes the history of the area “Stopping at the giant oak we found that some ruffians had smashed the sign put up by the North Suffolk Garden Club of Smithtown, who have maintained the spot. His Royal Highness is also badly in need of tree surgery. Why doesn’t some Stony Brook civic organization undertake the care of its oldest living inhabitant? It has been stated that this is the oldest tree in the country, but as that claim is still being debated by newspapers contributors, leave me out of it. I wonder just how old he is? I am told that he was here before the white man came. He saw Lubber Street’s birth and death. What has happened in Stony Brook since he burst open that brown shell of his acorn prison and pushed a tender shoot up toward the sun, would fill many volumes.”


From "Fish-Shape Paumanok" by Robert Cushman Murphy

In 1952 The Long Island Horticultural Society published The Trees of Long Island by George H. Peters. As described in its subtitle the publication was “A Short Account of their History, Distribution, Utilization, and Significance in the Development of the Region…Also the Results of the First Systemic and Comprehensive Census of the “Big Trees” of Long Island, including a List of the Largest Specimens of the Species Reported.” This first publication of the organization was dedicated to Mrs. Frank Melville “Director-Patron-Friend…with gratitude and affection.”


The booklet published the results of a five year survey begun in 1947. The publication expanded on the previous survey work by Norman Taylor published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1922. In late 1947 The Long Island Horticultural Society in pursuance of its policy to foster interest in all phases of Long Island horticulture, decided to undertake a new census of big trees including native and exotic trees. The main part of the publication lists the largest example of that particular species and its location and girth. Another section lists the ten largest trees for several selected species.


The booklet contains a list of Long Island’s 68 native tree species. It also focuses on big trees with specific historic significance. The Black Oak at Lloyd Neck was then the largest specimen in the United States. The tree was named for Theodore Roosevelt who “spent many hours under this tree reading or resting during hiking or hunting trips” before becoming President. (Circumferences - 1922 17ft; 1947 19ft. 7in.; 1973 20ft. 7in.). Also the largest Horsechestnut on Long Island at Halesite and a Sycamore at Orient. “The largest tree with a trunk over 4 ½ feet high, and therefore most impressive as a big tree, is the White Oak on Lubber Lane, west of Christian Road, northeast of Stony Brook. This great tree measures 23 feet 4 inches around at breast height.”



From "The Trees of Long Island" 1952 publication.

The Society decided the census should be reviewed and updated every 10 years. A concern during the undertaking of the first census was that not all potential big trees/species were reported. Also over time trees could be damaged or removed, the result of natural causes or by man, and some trees may have simply reached the end of their life cycle. The 1963 report mentions that three of the largest trees from the 1922 report are still standing including the Lubber St. White Oak (girth 23ft. 9in.) and the Lloyd Harbor Black Oak (girth 20ft. 3in.)

The 1963 publication supplement summarizes the results of the second big tree census of The Long Island Horticultural Society taken between 1958 and 1963. It points out the effect of suburbanization, hurricanes, etc. but the biggest destructive factor mentioned was Dutch Elm disease. They estimated that by the time of the third tree census the English and American Elms would all be gone.


Big Trees from the Three Village area-the largest of the species at the time of the census. Girth measurements taken at a height of 4ft. 6in. unless otherwise noted. (Absence from a survey year does not necessarily mean a tree is gone, a larger specimen may have been identified.

Location/species 1922 1952 1962 1972

Francis Bacon Estate, Stony Brook/

Head of the Harbor

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) 18ft. 8in. 19ft. 5in. 19ft. 8in.

Weeping European Larch (Larix decidua pendula) 8ft. 3 in.* 10ft. 0in* 10ft. 7in.*


Erland Ave., Stony Brook

Monkey Puzzle (Araucaria Araucana) 0ft. 11in. 1ft. 8in. 2ft. 5in.

C. T. Emmett Estate, Stony Brook/

Head of the Harbor

Smoketree (Cotinus coggyria) 2ft. 7in.** 3ft. 0in.**

English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) 2ft. 6in. 3ft. 1in.

T. A. Emmett Estate, Stony Brook/Head of the Harbor

English walnut (Juglans regia) 5ft. 7in.**

Lubber Lane, Stony Brook

White Oak (Quercus alba) 19ft. 7in 23ft. 4 in. 23ft. 9in. 24ft 0in.

Meadow Lane, Stony Brook

Quince (Cydonia olbonga) 0ft 11in.***

Old Field Rd., Old Field

Deodar Cedar (Cedrus deodara) 2ft. 1in.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) 2ft. 0in.

Golden Arborvitae (Thuja occidentallis aurea) 0ft. 9in. 1ft. 1in. gone

Bay Dr., Setauket

Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana) 17ft. 0in.

The reports also list the top ten trees for certain selected species. The following are among those listed for the Three Village area from the three censuses

H.C. Sherwood, Post Rd., East Setauket aka Sherwood Jayne House

Black Walnut 14ft. 6in. 14ft. 4 in. 14ft. 6in.

J.J. O’Connor/S. Converse property, Old Town Rd., Setauket 200ft south of LIRR high bridge

Black Walnut 13ft. 7in. 14ft. 1 in. 14ft. 4in.

Former William Floyd Estate, south of View Ave., Setauket

European Beech NR NR 13ft. 10in.****

C. S. Newcomb property, east of north end of Van Brunt Manor, Poquott

Purple (Copper) Beech NR 12ft. 10in. 14ft. 7in.**

*girth measurement taken at height 2 ft. 6 in.

** girth measurement taken at height of 3ft.

*** girth measurement taken at height of 2ft.

****girth measurement taken at 4ft.

NR – not registered



From "The Trees of Long Island" 1973 edition

From "The Story of the Huntington Murals, First National Bank of Huntington, artist H. Willard Ortlip. One of a series of murals ca. 1930 originally from the Hotel Huntington.

The 1973 publication (surveying began in 1968) contemplates the loss of several White Oaks. “Among the White Oaks, the well known “Ye Olde Oake” of Stony Brook is still the Long Island Champion but it is nearing the end of several centuries of stalwart life. Unfortunately, we will never know its age since it is completely hollow and the annual rings cannot be counted…Another special White Oak, now gone, was the Walt Whitman White Oak which the poet undoubtedly knew quite well but which succumbed to the paving of the Walt Whitman Shopping Center.”







Sources:

  • Peters, George H., The Trees of Long Island, The Long Island Horticultural Society, publication no. 1, Summer 1952, Farmingdale, NY.

  • Supplement Number 1 to The Trees of Long Island, The Long Island Horticultural Society, publication no. 2, Fall 1963, Great River, NY.

  • Peters, George H., The Trees of Long Island, The Long Island Horticultural Society, publication no. 3, Spring 1973, Oyster Bay, NY.

  • Lapham, Edward A., Stony Brook Secrets, The Gotham Bookmart Press, NY 1942.

  • Murphy, Robert Cushman, Fish-Shape Paumanok, The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1964.


The books referenced above are available at the Emma S. Clark Memorial in the Long Island reference collection. Also in the collection is a 1994 publication Great Trees of Long Island photography by Richard Machtay; illustration and design by M. Willis Associates, Stony Brook, NYS DEC (not accessible at the time of this writing due to library closure)



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