300-year-old Shaker Heights tree downed by storm

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SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio – Crews in Shaker Heights on Thursday were continuing to clean up downed trees from violent storms that tore through the area on Sunday.

A majestic oak on Larchmere Boulevard may have stood its ground since the Northwest Territory, the area we now call Ohio, was first colonized in the 1700s

Susal LaPine, of Gates Mills, was in her car attempting to drive through the storm when she said winds snapped the tree off a short distance in front of her.

“It was just the wildest weather experience I have ever had,” LaPine said. “The water was solid. We couldn’t see. I was inching along driving and then the car in front of us stopped so we stopped. We were being pelted by branches.”

“It was scary, but you knew you couldn’t do anything we just had to sit it out,” she said.

Peggy Speath of Friends of Lower Lake said she found the tree on a map of the area drawn 84 years ago, when it was already 60 inches in circumference.

“It grew from an acorn in about 1700, which is huge so that pre-dates the Shaker settlement and it predates Moses Cleaveland and that’s ancient,” Speath said.

She used current dimensions along with a formula for how trees grow to determine that the white oak was likely more than 300 years old.

“This tree saw the founding of the United States, the founding of Cleveland, lots of natural disasters apart from this. And it was one micro burst in this area over the course of 300 years that brought it down,” said Ashley Hall, Marketing Coordinator for Shaker Lakes Nature Center.

The winds sheared the tree off about 8 feet off the ground, revealing a centuries old treasure trove of information for naturalists. Hollowed out in the center of its trunk, the tree most likely was the victim of decades, perhaps even a century, of decay from predatory mushrooms and attack from insects.

It is a sad ending, but one that Nick Mikash, a natural resources specialist with the Nature Center of Shaker Heights, said shows the tree lived a respectable and productive life, doing exactly what you would expect a grand tree its age to do.

“Certainly squirrels, birds, insects and all sorts of small mammals have lived in and on this tree,” Mikash said.

“It’s a record of what happened for the past 300 years. If you were to do a cross section and look at the rings, you could see periods of drought, periods of rapid growth where things were doing really well for it and if it lived another hundred years we would see climate change,” Mikash said.

The city designated the tree a “heritage tree” earlier this year.

“One thing I have learned is that people are incredibly passionate about this tree. They are passionate about all the trees in the area and that’s because of the nature center fighting for this to become a preserve,” Hall said.

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