Disease Causes Demise Of Historic Tree

An oak tree that has lived more than 200 years in Walnut Creek succumbed to disease and was removed by city crews last week.

With branches hanging ominously over parked cars and passing people, city crews last week removed a diseased oak tree from the Civic Park parking lot. Though it created a definite danger and removal was really not an option, that tree has stood on its spot for over 200 years, long before there was even an entity called Walnut Creek. 

The Valley Oak, which measured 60 inches in diameter, was first diagnosed with the fungus armillaria mellea -- which appear as mushrooms on the surface and kill the live tissue (inner bark) and the wood just inside the inner bark -- in 2010, according to a city press release. 

"The inner bark is responsible for moving photosynthates (food) from the leaves to areas throughout the tree. The wood tissue moves water and minerals from the roots to the top of the tree. Without proper movement of photosynthates, water and minerals to nourish the tree, the tree eventually dies," the release explained.

When the fungus was discovered, the soil around the tree was removed so it could be more thoroughly examined. That's when it was noted that more than 75 percent of the wood around the trunk was dead. That signaled the end for the historic oak. 

Finally, in October of this year, an arborist determined that the branches of the tree, including the ones hanging over the parking lot, were dying as well. Dead branches fall, as do dead trees. With a series of high-wind storms heading our way, it was decided to remove the tree for obvious safety reasons.

So it's gone, but what tales that tree could tell. It was a sapling when the area was populated mostly by native Americans, other oak and wildlife. At its birth, the area was officially a Spanish territory. In 1821, it became a part of Mexico after the revolution there released it from Spain. Then, in 1850, the first roofed residence was built nearby, and that same year the tree was officially on United States soil. 

Five years later, a place called The Corners was developed not far from where the tree stood. In 1862, a post office was opened and the development was officially named Walnut Creek. In 1914, it became the eighth incorporated city in the county. From there it watched the slow but steady rise of a farm town to a sleepy suburb to a thriving, bustling commercial hub it is today.

It saw the rise of a busy urban park which has hosted weddings, a farmers market, playgrounds, an annual ice rink, and two libraries. It watched the cycle of many generations of Walnut Creek residents come and go as it stood its patient, stoic watch.

Disease turned the tree from a shady comfortable presence into a potential danger, but it stood steady guard as the history of this city unfolded before it. 

Julie Jepsen-Grant December 01, 2012 at 06:32 PM
The Merry One December 01, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Thanks for the well-written history of this magestic tree, Jim. Too bad it couldn't make it to another 200 years.
Bob Brittain December 01, 2012 at 09:26 PM
I was walking on the Iron Horse Trail two weeks ago in Danville. Just after I passed a park bench, I heard a loud snap and turned around to see a branch fall onto the bench. Any person sitting there probably would have been killed. I appreciate that the City took preventive action in Civic Park.
Bryn Thenell December 01, 2012 at 11:52 PM
The same thing happened to me on the trail head off Olympic Blvd. I was about three feet away from a large oak branch overhead that cracked and fell at my feet. As sad as it is to see a tree go they do have a finite lifespan.
Jojo Potato December 02, 2012 at 01:19 AM
All very warm and fuzzy story, but let's face it we killed that tree. When a Valley Oak like that gets surrounded by pavement then it will die pretty soon. It originally grew on the bank of the creek, when the city grew up around it and needed a place to put cars, well, there you go. There are so few left in town, I sometimes wonder what holds up the one above Scott's restaurant, Disney perhaps? One fell several months ago where Cherry Lane turns into Walden. Blaming "disease" makes it sound benign, it's not, it's us and we should accept our responsibility.
Triple Canopy December 03, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Humans are nothing but parasites of the land... the only species which fouls its nest. The answer is to reduce the human population so that the natural environment can recover. Absurd... every living organism has a limited lifetime. Trees are temporary in relative terms so plant another.
Deborah Burstyn December 03, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Sad loss and terrible to think our negligence caused it. I worried this might happen.


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