WEST NEWBURY — Two trees that date back to pre-Revolutionary War days are the first to be added to the town Tree Committee’s Roster of Significant and Remarkable Trees.
The eight-member panel bestowed the designation on a 99-foot black oak behind Barbara and Peter Haack’s home at 108 Main St. and a 72-foot scarlet oak, growing uphill on a field on the Beaucher property at 36 Coffin St.
The committee, created by selectmen in January 2019, views partnering with the community to find significant and remarkable trees as one of its core responsibilities.
Property owners are invited to nominate trees they think are unique based on their size; age; aesthetic, botanical, cultural and historical value; or merits as a natural habitat. With climate change looming, raising the community’s consciousness about the valuable role trees play is paramount, the group believes.
Among the trees that cover nearly 60% of the town’s landscape, the black oak on Main Street qualified for distinction because of its age and size. Estimated to be 290 years old, the tree was a sapling during the Revolutionary War and approximately 50 years old when the town was incorporated in 1819. It has a circumference of 228 inches and a crown spread of 77 feet.
Last spring, committee Chair Fred Chanania nominated the oak for "State Champion" recognition from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and he likes the tree’s chances.
The current state champion black oak has a point value of 337, while the local oak’s point value is 346. The National Champion Tree Registry uses a point system to determine “the largest, most interesting known tree of each species, trees of historical origins, and other trees of unique and significant importance growing within the state of Massachusetts,” according to the state’s website.
A tree’s total points are based on its trunk circumference plus its height plus one-quarter of its average crown spread.
“The size and estimated age of this black oak are astounding compared with the other trees in West Newbury and make this tree truly remarkable,” Haack stated in her application.
In its evaluation, the committee observed “this tree started its life when Massachusetts was still a colony and was likely growing among other very large, Colonial-era trees well before the Revolutionary War. Standing on a fairly steep hillside that could not be farmed, this tree survived the many historical eras of the West Newbury landscape — from deep forest in the 1700s, to pasturing in the 1800s, and the subsequent heavy agricultural eras of the 1800s and 1900s.”
Although no historical information about the tree is available, the Haacks’ homestead is estimated to date from about the mid-1700s.
Over on Coffin Street, the approximately 121-year-old scarlet oak was selected for its cultural and historical significance.
“It has stood tall and weathered history and New England winters over these 100 years,” states the application submitted on its behalf.
“This outstanding scarlet oak stands alone at one corner of a field that was agricultural during the end of the 19th and into the 20th century ... .This tree has personal history with neighbors who visited the fields on the property while it was still owned by Ed Beaucher,” the panel’s written review states.
Kelly Scott — who grew up at 36 Coffin St. and still lives there — recalls reading books while reclining against the trunk of the tree when she was younger.
“Likely taking root at the end of the 19th century, this tree weathered the heavy agricultural eras in West Newbury history, and probably stood above all agricultural activity in the surrounding fields from the 1920s forward,” the review states.
Scarlet oaks are abundant on the shores of Massachusetts Bay and were likely one of the first trees seen by the Pilgrims, according to “A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America” by Donald Peattie.
A housing development proposed nearby threatens the tree’s existence, the applicant contended. The tree has a circumference of 95 inches and a 90-foot spread. The landscape value of the tree — as well as its historical and cultural relevance to the town — gives it significance, the committee concluded.
The panel is reviewing 10 nominated trees. To download an application to nominate a tree, visit the Tree Committee page on the town website at www.wnewbury.org/tree-committee
Along with Chanania and Haack, other Tree Committee members are Jane Martin, Molly Hawkins, Francesca Pomerantz, Claudia Woods, Lionel Zupan and Tree Warden Wayne Amaral. The group meets virtually on the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m.
Anyone interested in joining should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.