AUBURN – While the future of Auburn’s 130-year-old Toomer’s Oaks is uncertain, Auburn has had a plan since 2001 to grow potential replacements and to supply alumni and fans with their own Toomer’s Oaks seedlings.
“Due to the age of the trees, we knew a day would come that new trees might be needed,” said Scott Enebak, professor of forestry. “We were anticipating sometime around 2020 at the earliest, but unfortunately the recent poisoning may create a new timetable. We are doing all we can to save the trees, but if the worst happens, we have a plan in place.”
In 2002, students collected acorns from the Toomer’s Oaks, raised seedlings and planted them in a small orchard on Auburn forest property. Today, 46 offspring of the famed trees are 15 feet tall and almost 3 inches in diameter.
“There were two goals for these trees,” Enebak said. “Some of the trees could be used to replace the existing Toomer’s Oaks when they reach the end of their normal life cycle, and the orchard could be used to produce acorns to provide a continuous supply of new Toomer’s Oaks.”
The visionary plan also created the Toomer’s Oaks Seedlings program that benefits the Toomer’s Endowed Scholarship Program for forestry students. Each fall, students in the Forestry Club, Wildlife Society and Xi Sigma Pi forestry honor society use a lift cart to collect acorns at Toomer’s Corner, grow the seedlings in a greenhouse and sell them to alumni and fans around the country. More than 2,000 of these Baby Toomer’s Oaks have been sold through the years.
Demand has grown substantially since the recent poisoning of the Toomer’s Oaks, says Enebak.
“At present, we have sold out of our stock of Baby Toomer’s Oaks,” he said. “We have received more than 2,300 requests in the past two weeks. In May we will have approximately 400 seedlings available from the 2009 Toomer’s acorns and approximately 600 available this September from the 2010 acorns.”
A lottery system has been established for the purchase of seedlings. Those wishing to buy a Baby Toomer’s Oak can fill out an online request at http://www.sfws.auburn.edu/oaks/Default.htm. Names will be randomly selected; those chosen will be eligible to purchase one seedling. The cost is $100 per seedling at the time a person’s name is drawn in May or September, with the proceeds benefiting the scholarship fund.
Enebak says the famed Toomer’s Corner Oaks may produce more acorns this fall, even if the trees have been fatally poisoned.
“When trees are stressed, they often produce a final crop of acorns,” he said. “It’s nature’s way of preserving a species. We will gather those acorns and grow more seedlings. If they don’t produce more, we have our orchard of Toomer’s offspring and we will grow the Toomer’s Oaks grandchildren.”
Updates on the condition of the Toomer’s Oaks are available at www.auburn.edu/oaks.
(Written by Charles Martin.)