Landowner hauls water to 350-year-old bur oak

Sunday, August 26, 2012 | 3:46 p.m. CDT; updated 4:56 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 26, 2012

COLUMBIA — A majestic bur oak in mid-Missouri survived the Civil War and floods, but this summer's drought has taken a toll on the tree.

Landowner John Sam Williamson said that for the first time he can remember he had to haul water into the Missouri River bottoms last week for the massive oak tree that sits on his 1,000-acre farm. Williamson deposited two loads of about 850 gallons of water that soaked into the ground quickly.

Williamson told The Columbia Daily Tribune the drought has been hard on the prized specimen.

"The drought of '80 was different," he said. "That was hotter, but this one is longer."

The U.S. Drought Monitor this week said more than 99 percent of Missouri is in one of the two worst drought categories. More than a third of the state, including most of Boone County, is in an exceptional drought, the most severe category. Columbia so far has also experienced 40 days with a high temperature of at least 95 degrees, the eighth-highest number of days that warm in a single year.

Williamson said the tree's leaves were starting to curl and have turned brown.

"I think it has aborted a lot of the acorns. And the leaves turn upside down to keep from losing moisture."

The tree, which stands at least 90 feet tall, was estimated by the MU Forestry Club in the 1950s to be 300 years old, making the tree about 350 years old today.

If the club's estimate is accurate, the bur oak was already more than 100 years old when the Williamson family bought the land it stands on in 1835. It was Boone County's "Liberty Tree" for the bicentennial celebration in 1976 and survived months in feet of standing water after a 1993 flood.

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