Friday, January 19, 2007

A Great Oak Was Once A Little Acorn -- Happy Florida Arbor Day!

National Arbor Day is in April, but winter is a better time to plant trees in Florida, so here it's celebrated on the third Friday in January. Which happens to be today --so go plant a (Florida native) tree!

And speaking of Florida trees, USF's Chinsegut Hill Conference and Retreat Center north of Brooksville is home to the Lenin Oak. In 1917 when this acron sprouted, Chinsegut was owned by Raymond Robins, who was off in Russia serving as head of the American Red Cross there, and working as a diplomat in a country going through "interesting" times. In the course of his work, he became acquainted with Vladimir Lenin, so his wife named the new tree the "Lenin Oak." Later, after Robins died, a plaque was placed near the tree. In 1961, during the Cold War when anti-Soviet sentiment was high, a group of Boy Scouts found the plaque. Their incensed leader notifyied the newspapers, and with the involvement of senators and such, a major brouhaha erupted. The USDA, which was running Chinsegut as an experimental agricultural center, ordered the removal of the plaque, which was melted down and pitched into a nearby lake.

Another noteworthy oak is Jacksonville's Treaty Oak, in a small urban park (Jessie Ball duPont Park). Legend has it that Andrew Jackson and Chief Osceola met under this tree to sign a treaty. That story is unfortunately false, but the tree is still important. In 1984, Jeffrey Meyer had a family picnic under the Treaty Oak, and his son picked up some acorns. They planted a nut in their yard, where it grew quite well. An idea also grew, and Meyer started American Forests' Famous and Historic Tree Program, where you can buy "offspring of trees connected to famous people, events, and places." JEA (Jacksonville's utility company) also grows seedlings from the Treaty Oak.

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