A small crowd gathered on Pinewood Street in Roseboro Monday to pay tribute to the town’s oldest resident and newest hometown champ — a 300 to 400 year old willow oak tree.
For years the tree has been well-known in Roseboro with many residents showing interest in and concern for it. However, it wasn’t until recently that real action was taken to preserve and protect the tree and to document its significance.
Sampson natives Dr. A.J. Bullard and Bob Melvin nominated the tree to the N.C. Forest Service’s Champion Big Tree Program earlier this year, and forest service rangers visited Roseboro, examined the tree, and gathered information about it, determining that it’s circumference measures 307 inches, it’s height reaches to 80 feet, and it has a crown spread of 126 feet.
With such impressive numbers, the tree was deemed eligible for the program and received certification on Aug. 2, officially registering it as one of the state’s Champion Big Trees.
On Monday, Roseboro mayor David Alexander welcomed attendees to the tree dedication ceremony, noting that although he hails from Roseboro “this is something new to me.”
He expressed his happiness that steps had been taken to save and recognize this natural landmark in the town, and specifically thanked Commissioner Roland Hall for his efforts in the project.
“I’m not a native of Sampson. I moved here in 1992 but as soon as I got here, I heard people talking about this big tree,” Hall shared, adding that the tree will be located along the town’s portion of the new Mountain-to-Sea Trail, giving numerous people from all over the state the opportunity to see it as they travel the planned trail.
Benjamin Watkins, assistant county ranger with the N.C. Forest Service, was on hand to talk about the Forest Service’s Champion Big Tree Program, sharing that the program was created in the 1970s as a way to recognize special trees across the state, like the one in Roseboro.
Whether trees are big or small, old or young, “all serve some type of significance,” said Watkins, explaining that the program usually recognizes trees based on size, age, and or historical value.
“This one’s got all three,” he said, looking over at the tree’s massive trunk. “It may not be documented but the tree’s 300 to 400 years old so it’s seen the Civil War which has some roots here and it’s seen the Revolutionary War which I know has significant roots here.”
Also on the program was Bullard, a Sampson native, retired dentist, and avid, self-taught botanist.
“He’s not your ordinary Sampson fellow,” noted Hall, mentioning Bullard’s well-known orchard which includes 29 of the 30 oak species native to the state. “He’s been studying plants since he was a child. He has a lot of respect among botanists.”
“Since I can remember I’ve been interested in trees and plants, anything that grew,” Bullard shared, going on to explain the origin of the willow tree’s scientific name — Quercus phellos. “It (the species) is fairly common in North Carolina.”
“When you get up close to it, it really starts to grow,” he continued, looking up at the tree’s high-reaching branches. “This is the oldest and biggest celebrity Roseboro has ever had. It’s an honor to have it recognized and protected.”
Commissioner Anthony Bennett then offered the dedication prayer, giving thanks to God for the tree’s life and growth, and it’s place in Roseboro.
To mark the dedication, Bullard and Watkins unveiled the temporary marker, made by the Department of Corrections, for the tree.
“We’re official now,” said Hall, adding that the tree’s certification will be displayed and kept on file at Roseboro’s town hall.
To learn more about the N.C. Forest Service’s Champion Big Tree Program, please visit http://ncforestservice.gov/Urban/nc_champion_big_trees_overview.htm.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.