By: SNJ Today Staff
SALEM, N.J. — When the famed Salem Oak tree’s weary roots finally gave out back in June of this year, toppling the venerable tree, people were left with a hole not just in the ground, but in their hearts.
However, it looks like the tree is about to get a chance to keep its legacy going, and in a big way.
The Department of Environmental Protection will give seedlings from the Salem Oak to each of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities for planting this spring.
In a surprise video presentation during the mayors’ luncheon at the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City on November 20, DEP Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe announced the gift in celebration of the department’s 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of America’s first Earth Day on April 22, 2020.
“It is with great joy that we extend these oak branches to all of you so that all of us — together — can create a lovely, lasting legacy,” MaCabe said in the video presentation. “Fifty years from now, people will know that our shared commitment to protecting and respecting our environment ran as deep as the roots of the mighty Salem Oak.”
The iconic Salem Oak stood on West Broadway in the historic city of Salem for more than 500 years until June 6, 2019, when it suddenly crashed to the ground. The loss of the beloved oak was deeply felt by Salem residents and countless others throughout New Jersey and beyond.
The Salem Oak was one of New Jersey’s best-known and most celebrated trees and was ranked among the state’s largest white oaks. Located in the Salem Friends Burial Ground, the majestic oak was more than 100 feet tall with a truck circumference of approximately 22 feet. Its crown spanned 104 feet. Its age also exceeded the lifespan of most white oaks, which typically live 200 to 300 years.
The oak was also known for its illustrious history. It was the sole surviving tree from the original forest that covered the land when Quaker John Fenwick, founder of Salem, first arrived in 1675. According to legend, Fenwick met with Lenni Lenape Native Americans and, under the oak’s branches, signed a peace treaty. The event is commemorated by a historical marker at the site.
Only months before the tree fell, Salem County Historical Society and foresters in the DEP Forest Service’s Big and Heritage Tree Conservation program collected acorns at the base of the Salem Oak and saw no evidence that the tree’s days were numbered. From those acorns, nearly 1,200 seedlings sprouted, then were transferred into tubes and now are being nurtured in the greenhouse at the New Jersey Forest Service Nursery in Jackson Township.
The public will be given an opportunity to purchase these seedlings. When shipped, each seedling will be accompanied by a certificate to authenticate its heritage as the progeny of the Salem Oak. The DEP is preparing for municipalities a video that explains how to properly plant the seedlings.
In addition, the DEP is designing a special web page that will enable all municipalities to share details on their seedling planting this coming spring.
“Generations of New Jerseyans will reap the benefits of this extraordinary planting,” McCabe said in the video.
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