Heritage Tree: Live Oak at the Alamo

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Alamo Live Oak

Walter Whall moved the 40-year-old Live Oak to the Alamo in 1912, proving you CAN move large trees and transplant them successfully.

Monika Maeckleby Monika Maeckle

The Live Oak at the Alamo ranks as the most popular tree at the Shrine of Texas Liberty.  The “Big Tree,” as visitors often call it, pleases the crowds and has been commemorated in brass keychains, pen-and-ink drawings, and a history hunt on the Alamo homepage.  Its photographic likeness serves as artwork on the Wikipedia page for Quercus virginiana, the tree’s species name.

Michael Nentwich measures the Alamo Live Oak

San Antonio City Forester Michael Nentwich measures the Alamo Live Oak: 39 feet, 1 inch

The mammoth specimen anchors the Convento Courtyard and sits next to an abandoned well.  Tucked behind the north barracks wall, it exhibits classic Live Oak form:  stout trunk and draping branches that bow to the ground, then reach like fingers from the earth. San Antonio City Forester Michael Nentwich pointed out that Live Oak is one of the most dense tree woods, weighing 76 pounds per cubic foot, which means this tree represents literally tons of biomass.   That’s why mature branches, laden with such weight, often bow to the ground.   Once they touch the ground, they find the  strength and support to begin reaching up again, seeking light and sky.

Alamo Live Oak

Walter Whall moved the 40-year-old Live Oak to the Alamo in 1912, proving you CAN move large trees and transplant them successfully.

Planted in 1912 by Walther Whall,  the Alamo Live Oak proved that large trees can be transplanted successfully.  Back then, many didn’t think it possible to relocate large trees.  Whall proved them wrong and started San Antonio’s first tree-moving company.

After carefully removing the earth from the roots of a 40-year-old Live Oak, Whall hauled it to the Alamo on a cart pulled  by four mules.  He transplanted it into the Convento Courtyard where it thrives today.  According to the plaque in front of the tree, Whall contended the most difficult part of moving the tree was avoiding power and telegraph lines.

Alamo Live Oak

Alamo Live Oak

Alamo horticulturist Mark Nauschutz said the tree has been “well-engineered” with various supports over the years.  Its hefty branches have found their way toward the chapel and Alamo proper, requiring thoughtful pruning.  “We’ve reduced the weight of this limb several times to protect the limestone wall,” said Nauschutz, regarding one wandering branch.  Cables have also been employed to hold the canopy together and maintain the tree’s admirable structure.

The Live Oak at the Alamo

Species:  Quercus virginiana

Height:  39 feet, 1 inch

Canopy:  88 feet

Diameter at breast height:  49 inches

Circumference:  12 feet, 9 inches

Age:  140 years

Location:  Courtyard of the  Alamo, near the north barracks wall

Get there by bus:Blue Route or Yellow Route.  The Alamo is a main bus stop, and buses run every 15-20 minutes.

Also known as: Encino, Plateau Live Oak or Escarpment Live Oak

NOTES:  Diameter at breast height, or DBH, is a standard of measuring tree diameter at four-and-a-half feet off the ground.  Regarding the age of trees, arborists and foresters are reluctant to cite them.   The only accurate way to determine a tree’s age is with an increment boring test, whereby a hollow drill bit is bored into the tree trunk.  Very traumatic for the tree.  Since soil and water availability determine tree growth, some trees grow huge in several decades while others live  a century and can be much smaller.  The tree’s temperament is also a factor.

In short, when it comes to determining tree ages, size doesn’t matter.    We will cite educated guesses by certified arborists for the ages of featured trees, unless scientific or historical data are available.

Have a favorite heritage tree?   Send us a photo, a story and we’ll consider it for inclusion to hello@rivardreport.com.

More on San Antonio’s trees:

San Antonio’s Initiative to Plant One Million Trees by 2020

Read our weekly series on Heritage Trees.

Monika Maeckle writes about gardening, butterflies, conservation and the Monarch butterfly migration at the Texas Butterfly Ranch.  She covers nature in the urban environment for this website.  You can reach her at monika@therivardreport.com or follow her on Twitter @monikam.

6 thoughts on “Heritage Tree: Live Oak at the Alamo

  1. I am presenting a talk in Silver Springs Maryland’s ” Trees Matter” symposium in November 2012. My talk is on the history and technigues for transplanting large trees. If you have any more historical information or photos I could incorporate in this talk, I would be most grateful. Thank you,
    David B. Cox

    • Thanks, David. I’m afraid I don’t have much else to offer. You might speak with your local city forester or arborist. Good luck! –Monika

  2. Is there a way I can get some Alamo live oak seedlings or some viable acorns I have lots of burr oaks growing well here So I guess live oaks will survive here Nice page My family and I loved San Antonio when we visited our son at the base thanks

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