Want to own an oak tree with ties to the original Oak Park trees, dating back hundreds of years before the village even existed? Well all it takes is $25 and a decent-size patch of dirt in your backyard.
In 2008, a group of local tree enthusiasts set about trying to propagate the population of historic oak trees, from which Oak Park gets its name. The species has been in place for centuries, before Europeans settled in the area but have not increased because of Oak Park’s strict tree-planting policies.
Three years ago, West Suburban Treekeepers started gathering hundreds of acorns from elderly oaks. Fast forward to today, and dozens of the trees are available to be planted, with the group hoping to have all of them spoken for by the end of September.
What makes these oak trees more important than the hundreds of others in Oak Park?
“They’re a part of our history,” said Oak Parker Kathryn Jonas, arborist and member of West Suburban Treekeepers. “Those trees witnessed the history of this area from hundreds of years ago. They’ve got the genetic material from those original trees, and they adapted over hundreds and thousands of years. We assume they’re a tough tree if they’ve made it through all the urban development, and it’s a link to our past.”
After volunteers gathered the acorns around Oak Park, they were bused them over to Morton Arboretum in Lisle. There the caps were popped off hundreds of the seeds and sewn into little plastic grow trays filled with soil, according to Peter Linsner, manager of plant production for the arboretum. Then the acorns were placed in a cooler for three or four months in late 2008, to mimic the winter chill, before volunteers removed them in April 2009 and transplanted them in the arboretum’s greenhouse. Linsner said the seeds were placed in little individual pots that look like milk cartons, as they started to germinate and sprouts emerged from the top.
The saplings spent a couple of seasons growing at the arboretum, getting replanted in bigger pots each year, until they were ready for the big leap back to Oak Park. Maintaining 300 or so tiny trees can be a chore, Linsner said, so he wasn’t too sad to see them go.
“I grow so many thousands of plants at the arboretum that you don’t really get attached,” he said, “but what was really rewarding was to see them actually get out into the community.”
About 100 of the tiny trees were made available at the Oak Park Conservatory this past spring for the public to adopt (25 have already been spoken for). Jonas said they hope to have all the plants claimed by the end of September, so they can start developing their roots before the ground freezes.
Anyone interested can fill out an application and pay $25 to adopt an oak, which also includes a protective metal fence and an identification tag. For more information, call Kathryn Jonas at 312-203-9880, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.openlands.org.
Another 100 oaks were transported to Possibility Place Nursery in Monee for a chance to grow a little larger. They’ll stay planted there for a couple more years, then half of them will be planted in local parks, while the village will place the rest on the public parkways along Oak Park streets.
Connor Shaw, the owner of Possibility Place, said he hasn’t really seen any other communities repopulating its historic trees.
“They’re by far the exception,” he said. “We have done it on occasion for others, but it’s far and few between. Usually by the time they’re ready to go, people sometimes forget that they gave ’em to us.”
Jonas said West Suburban Treekeepers plan to track the growth of the baby oaks over at least the next five years.