Jack Tickle, whose Bell Township farm stretches into a wooden swath, has known about the red oak for decades. He discovered it as a teenager and, in the approximately 65 years since then, has often visited it.
“I like to just go and look at that tree,” he told Tribune-Review.
Tom McQuaide, a forester that Tickle hired to fell select trees on his 103-acre farm, stumbled upon the giant recently. He is now in the process of submitting its formidable dimensions to the Champion Trees of Pennsylvania, which ranks the state’s largest trees by several measures, including girth and height.
The red oak on Tickle’s property stands some 120 high and swells to 26 feet in circumference. It needed approximately 400 years to grow to its current frame.
What contributes to the remarkable proportions of the red oak is its location – a forest.
“Often, large oak trees in Southwestern Pennsylvania have iconic large crowns and are found alone in the middle of a field or along a country road where they are allowed to be the local queen of the landscape,” said Charles Bier with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
And yet, it is the existence of vibrant flora around the mighty red oak that has facilitated its genetically coded longevity by shielding it from severe winds and lightning strikes.
Both Tickle and McQuaide agreed not to take down the tree, which could produce an estimated 5,000 board-feet of lumber, worth thousands of dollars and five times more than the volume a typical large red oak yields. In fact, the tree is so imposing that only a century ago, McQuaide said, the industry would not have boasted the equipment to cut it.
“It was too big to handle,” said McQuaide.
The red oak that currently holds the distinction of the largest in Pennsylvania rests in Delaware County, where it surges to 18 feet all around and 145 feet above the ground.
Red oaks cover a vast portion of North America, from Canada all the way to the southern United States. Because of their resilience and sturdiness, red oaks are some of the most common trees in the country, dominating the landscape in states as disparate in climate as Georgia and Wisconsin.
In Pennsylvania, “[i]f you are going to find a granddaddy tree, a champion, it’s going to be a red oak,” Ryan Reed, an environmental education specialists with the state’s Bureau of Forestry, told the Tribune-Review.