For the love of trees: Growing hundred year old giants

Sep 5, 2013

Blaine Mosher stands in front of an old red oak on his farm
Credit Nancy Camden

When a seed falls from a tree, what are the odds that it will take root and then grow for 300 years or more? Norm Bober in Van Buren County increases the possibility. As a teenager, when his family went to hunt for a Christmas tree, he brought pine cones home and planted the seeds. The next spring, they sprouted into pine trees.

“Ever since then, I’ve been growing trees. Wherever we go someplace, if I find some tree in bloom, where I can find the seeds, I bring some home and start them,” Bober says. “I plant trees every place I go. Every place we’ve lived, we’ve left trees.” 

Mosher's red oak without leaves
Credit Nancy Camden

Every year, Bober puts out 100 or 200 trees. While the animals think it is for them, Bober sees the long-term picture, knowing that Mother Nature puts them out by the thousands, so some will survive. In Jackson County, fifth-generation farmer Blaine Mosher drives an all-terrain vehicle through a cow pasture to the edge of a large woods. The biggest red oak tree he’s ever seen grows a quarter mile from the road. Measured 4 ft. up from the ground, the red oak tree is 19 ft. in circumference.

“These were big trees when my great, great grandfather got here in 1853,” Mosher says. “My grandfather never allowed us to cut these trees. We never cleared them from the hedge rows or from the fields because of that.”

Mosher believes that the red oak is at least 300 years old. The bur oaks, which Mosher says are sub-species of white oak, are probably 400 years old.

“If they were big trees 160 years ago, it takes 75 years for a tree like that to get one foot in diameter. If you take that and extrapolate it out, it might be older than 300.”

Mosher says these trees will grow a tenth to a quarter of an inch in diameter a year, depending on the weather. There were a dozen big trees on the farm when Mosher was a kid. Through the last 40 years or so, lightening and old age has left about eight or ten. Thirty years ago, Mosher talked the county into leaving a couple by the road and he says they are doing fine despite a couple of dead limbs.

“We like to take kind of a mile footprint. We leave a lot more trees around the farm than most farmers do, maybe to our detriment, but we still like the trees.”

When Norm Bober moved to his land, it was a hay field. He wished he had forest space.

“A spirit told me, ‘you know you want a forest, you’d better make one,” Bober says. “So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m doing it for the future generations.”