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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.