From little acorns, mighty oaks do grow. At least, that’s the hope of a new project on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, whose many prominent live oaks were battered during the past decade's hurricanes.
Gulfport city arborist Gus Wesson plants a Live oak sapling in Jones Park. Wesson says most of the harbor-side park’s trees are live oaks, a native species that can stand up to the coast’s often rough winds.
"They're used to this area, the conditions," he says. "Especially here, this close to the Gulf - you've really got to have something that can take the weather."
But this skinny sapling isn’t just any live oak – it grew from an acorn of the Friendship Oak, on the University of Southern Mississippi's campus in Long Beach. That tree was a sapling when Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic. Today, its trunk is almost 20 feet around, and its limbs stretch out more than 60 feet or more.
Live oaks are some of the coast's most popular trees. Hancock Bank spokesman Paul Maxwell says after Hurricane Katrina, the bank's chief executive, John Hairston, was struck by the storm's damage to the coast's live oaks.
"But at the same time, some of those trees actually managed to produce acorns," Maxwell says. "So he had the idea of, why not gather those acorns - sort of a symbol of hope for the coast at that time - nurture them, grow them into seedlings and saplings and eventually plant them up and down the coast."
That became the seed for the Perseverance Oaks project. The saplings were grown by Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research and Extension Center. Three saplings were planted in Long Beach and three in Gulfport this week.
Paul Maxwell says the effort will continue this fall with acorns harvested from landmark live oaks around the coast.
"Mississippi State's Extension Service will take those acorns and determine which ones will germinate," he says. "They'll plant them. We'll nurture them for several years. And probably in three to five years, when they get to be three or four feet tall, we'll begin to plant those. So it will be an ongoing process."
The state Forestry commission estimated Hurricane Katrina damaged more than 2.7 million trees in Mississippi.