Posted Friday, January 31st, 2020

In time for 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

In celebration of its 50th birthday and the 50th anniversary of America’s first Earth Day on April 22, the Department of Environmental Protection is sending the gift of a prized seedling from the famed Salem Oak tree to each of New Jersey’ 565 municipalities, including all of Morris County’s 39 towns, for planting in the spring.

photo of the famed Salem Oak tree

photo of the famed Salem Oak tree prior to its demise

With Mother Nature’s cooperation, the state plans to ship the seedlings during the last full week of April, which also coincides with Arbor Day, on April 24, when all state residents are encouraged to plant trees — and when weather conditions are generally best for success. With nurturing and a bit of luck, the seedlings will grow into memorable trees from Riverdale to Washington Township over the coming decades.

For more than 500 years, the iconic Salem Oak stood on West Broadway in the historic city of Salem until June 6, 2019, when it suddenly crashed to the ground. The loss of the beloved oak was deeply felt by Salem residents and countless others throughout New Jersey and beyond.

Historic photo of the famed Salem Oak tree

Historic photo of the famed Salem Oak tree

Before its demise, the Salem Oak was one of New Jersey’s best-known and most celebrated trees and was ranked among the state’s largest white oaks.

Located in the Salem Friends Burial Ground, the majestic oak was more than 100 feet tall with a truck circumference of approximately 22 feet. Its crown spanned 104 feet. Its age also exceeded the lifespan of most white oaks, which typically live 200 to 300 years.

The oak was also known for its illustrious history. It was the sole surviving tree from the original forest that covered the land when Quaker John Fenwick, founder of Salem, first arrived in 1675. According to legend, Fenwick met with Lenni Lenape Native Americans and, under the oak’s branches, signed a peace treaty. The event is commemorated by a historical marker at the site.

Only months before the tree fell, foresters in the DEP Forest Service’s Big and Heritage Tree Conservation program collected acorns at the base of the Salem Oak but saw no evidence that the tree’s days were numbered. From those acorns, nearly 1,200 seedlings sprouted, were transferred into tubes and now are being nurtured in the greenhouse at the New Jersey Forest Service Nursery in Jackson Township.

“Generations of New Jerseyans will reap the benefits of this extraordinary planting,” said DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe.

For more information on New Jersey’s Big and Heritage Tree program, visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/forest/community/bigtree_intro.html.

To learn more about the New Jersey Forest Service Nursery, visit www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/forest/nj_forest_nursery.htm.

For questions about the Salem seedlings, call 609-633-7700.