When we inevitably leave this earth one day, we live on through our progeny.
That’s true even if you’re a 600-year-old tree.
The famed, historic Salem Oak unexpectedly fell to its demise in June. But New Jersey officials announced a plan to ensure the tree’s legacy by distributing its seedlings to each of the state’s 565 municipalities.
“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,” NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe said in a video that was shared with mayors attending the New Jersey League of Municipalities Convention in Atlantic City.
The tree, which had stood on the grounds of the Salem Friends Meeting, had deep Quaker roots. Historians believed Quaker and Salem founder John Fenwick signed a treaty with the Lenni Lenape Indians under the oak tree in 1675.
The Religious Society of Friends, Salem Monthly Meeting, owned the tree and surrounding property since 1681, and members tended to the tree until the end.
A historic marker commemorates the tree’s link to the historic treaty, noting the Salem Oak was “the sole surviving tree from the original forest that covered this land” nearly 345 years ago.
The Salem Oak was the tallest white oak tree in New Jersey at the time of its collapse. In 2016, the tree measured 103 feet high and 22 feet, 4 inches wide, with a crown of 104 feet.
Just months before the tree fell, foresters in the DEP Forest Service’s Big and Heritage Tree Conservation program collected acorns at the base of the Salem Oak and saw nothing that indicated the tree’s health was in jeopardy, the agency said in a news release.
Nearly 1,200 seedlings sprouted from those acorns. They were transferred into tubes and now are being nurtured in the greenhouse at the New Jersey Forest Service Nursery in Jackson Township, according to the DEP.
Next April, “seedlings will be carefully packaged and shipped to each of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities for planting in a location that would ensure each one survives and thrives,” the DEP stated.
The timing will coincide with the DEP’s 50th birthday on April 22, which also is the 50th anniversary of America’s first Earth Day.
The DEP will create a webpage that will allow municipalities to share details on their seedling planting.
It won’t be the first time the Salem Oak contributed to other plantings.
In 1876, a seedling from the tree was planted in the center of the First Presbyterian Church’s cemetery in Salem. And in 1926, three seedlings were used to start trees along George Washington Memorial Parkway in Washington, D.C., as part of the nation’s 150th anniversary celebration.