by 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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on San Antonio’s 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 email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @monikam.