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Historic Penn Charter Tree Falls After Living Centuries

Pennsylvania's largest white oak (Quercus alba) fell over Tuesday morning, September 19th. Located on the property of the London Grove Quaker Meeting House, the massive oak boasts a circumference of 275 inches (about 7 feet wide) and a canopy spread of 120 feet. This tree has outlived the establishment of Pennsylvania as an official state.

Andrew Conboy, an arborist at Brandywine Urban Forestry, stands next to the massive root base of the London Grove white oak.

This tree (pictured above) had extensive root rot and was no longer able to support the weight of an 80-foot tree. Fruiting mushroom bodies (pictured below) suggest the tree had been in an advanced state of decay.

This oak was a living relic of the original Penn’s Woods. King Charles the 2nd gave William Penn a land deed (the land is known now as Pennsylvania) as payment for an outstanding debt. Because the oak was alive before William Penn’s arrival to the area in 1682, this specimen is called a Penn Charter tree. It is estimated to be over 350 years old. Though it is sad to lose this historic tree, its official age can now be confirmed by counting its tree rings.

The PA Champion Tree Program, a sector of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, is a volunteer-based organization dedicated to preserving the largest and most notable trees in Pennsylvania. They educate about the importance of conserving regional forests so future generations can enjoy them. Through this program, the Penn Charter Oak was nominated as a PA Champion tree in 1969.

The London Grove Charter Oak while it was still alive.

Mourners gathered Wednesday evening, September 20th, to commemorate the loss of the “Great Oak of London Grove.” Generations of families have long enjoyed the awe-inspiring presence of the white oak giant. Its sheer size is breathtaking, which is why it was a popular destination for all kinds of life celebrations. From weddings to funerals, this white oak bore witness to many joyous and difficult moments in the community.

Jennie Matkov, field consultant for Brandywine Urban Forest, was present at the funeral. "It was really special to see so many people gathered. This tree had a deep impact on the community. There were so many memories and stories of celebration associated with this oak. It was really neat."

It is sad when something beautiful comes to an end, but the memories of this great oak will live on in the community for years to come.

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