Union County College Continues Legacy of 600-Year Old Basking Ridge White Oak by Donating its Progeny

In the Historic Tree Grove, at Union County College’s Cranford Campus, the young white oak is removed from the ground to be relocated to the churchyard of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church Credits:
The 600-year-old Basking Ridge White Oak in 2014. Credits: TAP file photo
By September 2016, the beloved White Oak tree at the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church was showing no signs of life. Credits: Linda Sadlouskos

CRANFORD – Union County College (UCC) President Margaret M. McMenamin led the celebration of the donation of the progeny of the Basking Ridge White Oak Tree on Tuesday, April 11.

President McMenamin was joined by UCC Board of Trustees Chairman Victor M. Richel, Union County Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen, Co-chair of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church Committee Bill Emmitt, Bernards Township Administrator Bruce McArthur, Union’s Professor of Biology Dr. Thomas H. Ombrello, and students at the ceremony marking the removal of the progeny of the Basking Ridge Oak Tree from the College’s Historic Tree Grove at the Cranford Campus. The tree was relocated to the churchyard of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church later in the afternoon.

President McMenamin introduced the various attendees who helped make this exchange possible, noting that it was made possible due to the generosity of the students who decided to donate the progeny to maintain the legacy of the original Basking Ridge White Oak. The tree survived approximately 600 years and is known to be the oldest oak tree in the country.

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Thanks to the work of Dr. Ombrello, who began the Historic Tree Grove in 1995, this donation was possible. The tree grove features offspring of almost 100 trees from notable historical events of the nation, such as Civil War battlefields and the homes of historic figures that include Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 2001, Dr. Ombrello and a Union student collected two five-gallon buckets of acorns and harvested them in the Kellogg Greenhouse on the College’s Cranford campus. Many saplings grew from the acorns, but the strongest and hardiest of the saplings was planted in the tree grove and prospered there until its removal and relocation today. The tree will be planted in the churchyard, not far from its predecessor. Although the tree was an important part of the tree grove, it is more significant to the church because it will continue the legacy of the original tree.

In Dr. Ombrello’s speech to the attendees, he mentioned that he has one more sibling sapling of the original white oak. As part of the relocation process, soil from the churchyard grounds will be placed in the hole created from the removal of the tree in the grove. Dr. Ombrello is going to continue to nourish and care for the sibling sapling in his nursery with the hopes of planting it in the transplanted soil in the next year or so.

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