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This is what remains of the 150-year-old Wisdom Tree located on the campus of Marine Corps University. The iconic tree, which was old, frail and had root fungus, could not withstand the winds of the "bomb cyclone" which hit the area on March 2.

Photo by Photo by Maj. Andrew Bormann

150-year-old tree, an icon of Quantico, succumbs to bomb cyclone

7 Mar 2018 | Valerie O'Berry/Editor Marine Corps Base Quantico

The Wisdom Tree, an iconic part of Marine Corps Base Quantico’s landscape for more than 150 years, was no match for the “bomb cyclone” that hit the area on March 2, as the hurricane-like winter storm blew the tree down at 3:40 p.m., according to Marines who witnessed the tree fall. 

One of those who witnessed the historic moment when the tree fell was Gunnery Sgt. Eric Still, operations chief at MAGTF Staff Training Program, Training and Education Command, Marine Corps University.  He said he was standing on the steps of Breckinridge Hall at the university when he saw the tree start leaning to the left.  He said, “At that point I was wondering if it was going to fall.  About 10 seconds later it fell.”  Still said that the tree fell slowly and made a soft thumping noise, even though the base of the tree cracked.

Unfortunately, the tree’s weakened condition due to age and disease was no match for Mother Nature’s wrath.  All that is left of the tree is a huge, cracked base along with long branches piled on the ground.  The kiosk near the tree was crushed, as well as the bench where Quantico personnel used to sit and watch the Potomac River flow by.

The tree dates back to the pre-Civil War era (around 1860) according to estimates by professional foresters aboard base who work for the Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs (NREA) branch.  Sustained winds of 43 m.p.h. and gusts of 64 m.p.h. (as recorded by Marine Corps Air Facility meteorologists) were enough to bring down the already fragile tree.  However, NREA was able to pinpoint that it was a gust of wind of 57-58 m.p.h. that ultimately blew the tree down, according to Ron Moyer, forester. 

Due to age and disease, such as root fungus, the tree was in a weakened state and therefore very vulnerable to storms.  Although in its heyday the tree probably withstood hurricanes, flooding and other natural disasters, it was just too old and frail to withstand the March 2 storm.

For at least two years NREA has considered cutting the tree down due to possible safety issues, but experts wanted to give the tree as long as possible to stand as emotions about the tree run high due to its age and history.  The Wisdom Tree was at least 81 feet tall and had a 110-foot crown spread.  It was a beloved tree because a pavilion was built there where people could go and relax and eat lunch and it also provided a large area of much-needed shade in the summertime.     

But, all is not lost.  Two years ago Moyer collected acorns that had fallen from the Wisdom Tree in an effort to grow another Wisdom Tree and continue its heritage.  This was done because the NREA knew that the tree was on its last legs and would need to be cut down soon.  Fortunately, Moyer got a sprout from one of the Wisdom Tree’s acorns.  The tiny tree nicknamed “Little Wizz” is currently planted behind NREA’s log cabin and is doing well.  It is surrounded by fruit trees and is protected from wildlife by a fence that surrounds it.

Little Wizz is now 10 inches tall and Moyer says once it is big enough (which may take four or five years) he will take it and replant it on the site where the Wisdom Tree stood.  In addition, the Wisdom Tree, a willow oak, may just have a son or daughter already growing on the banks of the Potomac.  

“There is a willow oak already growing down the banks of the Potomac, although it is too far from the bank of the river to actually touch.  We think it came from the Wisdom Tree (due to its proximity to the old tree)” Moyer said.

Once cleanup of the fallen tree begins, Moyer says he plans to collect some branches, which he may have made into special awards or plaques for very special occasions.  Currently, the site where the tree lies is considered a hazardous area and yellow caution tape will be put around it for safety reasons.  When the base tree cleanup crew gets to the tree, people aboard base will have the chance to come to the site and get a piece of the tree for posterity.  Regardless, the tree’s legacy will be preserved for decades to come.

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