LSU removing tree killed by lightning

Published: Aug. 8, 2011 at 2:45 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2011 at 9:24 AM CDT
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Information provided by LSU

BATON ROUGE, LA - During the week of Aug. 8, LSU Facility Services will be removing the Steele Burden Live Oak located near the natatorium, which was struck by lightning in May 2010 and died despite arborists' efforts to save the historical tree.

"This is a component of the natural cycle of vegetative management that we at Facility Services are engaged in," said Fred Fellner, assistant director of landscape services at the LSU Office of Facility Services. "On average, we plant approximately 50-100 new trees across campus each year.  Unfortunately, each year, some trees have to be taken down due to disease or damage."

The Steele Burden Oak, which is approximately 80 years old, is not the first tree to be hit and destroyed by lightning.

"In fact," said Fellner, "an oak by Efferson Hall was struck the same day as the Burden oak, but it was hit so hard that fist-sized chunks of wood flew more than 360 feet away from the trunk. It was dead within 24 hours."

In the case of the Burden oak, the natural beauty of its low-hanging limbs actually made it more susceptible to lightning.

"It had several limbs that made contact with the ground, which acted as pathways for the lightning discharge," said Fellner.

After the initial lightning strike, Facility Services teams immediately removed the impacted branches, treated the bark for opportunistic beetles that prey on weakened trees and treated the soil around the oak with a beneficial micronutrient solution to aid recovery. A temporary irrigation system was installed to augment the appropriate hydration levels during summer.

"We did everything we could to save it, but the intensity of this lightning strike was too much for the tree to recover from," said Fellner.

Acorn-propagated saplings have been grown from the tree and are holding up successfully. In addition to the more traditionally-grown trees, Facility Services has contracted with a nursery to clone genetically-identical saplings from cuttings taken from limbs of the Steele Burden oak.  Salvaged pieces of wood are also being preserved and saved for future use.

LSU's campus is home to more than 1,200 live oak trees. Through the wisdom and vision of campus leaders from years ago, including Steele Burden, former landscaper for the LSU campus, these trees are an integral part of the university's image and tradition.

The LSU Foundation's Endow an Oak program provides an income stream to support the care and maintenance of LSU's oak trees in perpetuity. For each endowed tree, 50 percent of the gift builds the oak endowment, and the other half is placed into an account that can be used immediately by LSU's arbor management team. Endowed oaks are marked with customized, permanent bronze plaques installed near their bases. Donors who wish to provide general support for the oaks, rather than endowing a tree, can do so by making a gift of any amount to the LSU Foundation's Oak Program account.

Click here for more information about how to preserve LSU's iconic live oaks