Farewell, old friend: The oldest tree in North Texas falls after October storms

The Quadricentennial Bur Oak fell in the October 2023 storms. Photography provided by Plano Parks and Recreation.
Plano's Quadricentennial Bur Oak fell in the storms in October, leaving behind hundreds of years of history in its branches.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it still make a sound? I’m not sure the science on that, but Plano’s Quadricentennial Bur Oak, located in Bob Woodruff Park and believed to be more than 400 years old, fell after the stormy weather last month. Whether or not it made a sound, parks employees and Planoites from all over have felt its loss.

Plano Parks and Recreation posted about the loss of the tree on Oct. 27. According to the department, the tree’s scientific name is Quercus macrocarpa, and it stood 90 feet high and had a circumference of 15 1/2 feet. As arborists believe the tree to be more than 400 years old, many felt the weight of the historic events the tree has lived through. Older than dirt doesn’t quite cut it. The tree likely outlived the first English settlers arriving at Plymouth Rock. The signing of the Declaration of Independence. Sliced bread. Five out of the six flags over Texas. Yeah, you heard that right. When this tree was just a sapling, Plano was a contested area between Indigenous tribes, the Spaniards and the French. 

“We’ve been maintaining this tree for probably 25 years or more, so it’s kind of like an old friend to me,” Steve Houser, an arborilogical services expert said in a video from the City of Plano. “This is the oldest tree in North Texas. It’s not just any tree. If the tree could talk and tell you stories at that age, it saw Indians gathering underneath it and traveling throughout the area.”

Plano Parks & Recreation officials announced the falling of the tree on on Facebook with a warning to avoid the area due to unsafe conditions and a “farewell old friend” to the altitudinous arbor. 

The Quadricentennial Bur Oak in 1979, courtesy of Plano Parks and Recreation.

“We got a large amount of rain in a short period of time and with the preexisting conditions of the tree having the crack that we worked on a few years ago and some of the rot that was in the tree, that amount of rain forced the tree to fall down,” Marc Beaudoing, a Plano urban forester, said. 

Despite reduction pruning, fertilizer injections and insecticide injections, the tree has been leaning more and more over the last 10-20 years, Beaudoing said.

“It’s not like any other tree that I’ve been in. When you climb out on the ends and you’re out there and the wind is kind of rocking you back and forth, it’s like this ancient old lady is kind of rocking you back and forth in her hands and in her arms and it’s very relaxing, very rewarding,” Houser said. “You start to sense the personality of the trees when you’ve spent a lot of time climbing them, moving throughout their limbs and things of that nature, so it’s my absolute favorite tree of all time. It’s a tremendous loss for the field of arboriculture, for anybody that really cares and loves these old trees. From a historical perspective, it’s a tremendous loss.”

The video brought dozens of community members together to talk about memories they’ve had under the tree. Former Boy Scouts who trekked the area. Moms who picnicked or went on walks in the area with their now-grown children. 

“As a middle schooler at Armstrong Middle school, our coaches and teachers would take us for a campout there called “Gathering at the Gray Oak.” We would walk from Armstrong and sleep under the stars at night. It was beautiful and magical and the best of times. We learned so much about one another,” Planoite and Facebook user Cheryl True Kool commented on the video. “We were so blessed to have the best staff. Our coaches and teachers loved us. It’s why I wanted to be a teacher. 34 years and I still [hope] to leave my students knowing they were loved!”

While many Planoites called for various uses of the tree’s wood, parks and recreation representatives say most of the tree is rotted and unusable for lumber. The unusable parts will be recycled, while smaller branches and foliage will be processed and spread around the area where the old tree once stood to benefit the soil and encourage young things to grow. 

“Notwithstanding the large amount of rot, we still hope to repurpose some of the healthy wood into commemorative wood pieces,” a parks and recreation representative said. “For safety purposes, the area will be fenced off until the area is safe. We ask the public to stay clear of the area until this initial work has been completed.”

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