A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Landmark oak survives another storm

Written February 24th, 2021 by Hasso Hering

The “messenger oak” at Heritage Mall on Tuesday afternoon.

Unlike some other big old trees, Albany’s so-called “messenger oak” at Heritage Mall seems to have survived the ice storm this month without visible damage.

The age of this Oregon white oak is unknown. The city’s list of officially designated heritage trees says its age has been conservatively estimated to be at least 150 years. In news stories going back decades, the reported estimates ranged upwards of 250 years.

The tree’s nickname stems from this: Back in the day, people supposedly would leave written notes to each other crammed in the crevices of the bark. (This seems to defy good sense. How would the recipients know that a message was waiting for them at the tree? How could a sender be sure only the intended recipient would read it?)

In any case, when I finally got around on Tuesday to take a look, the old oak in the mall parking lot looked in pretty good shape. I saw no breaks where any big limbs succumbed to the weight of the ice.

Other big trees did not fare so well. One that didn’t is at 1811 Salem Ave. S.E. City forester Ric Barnett says it could be the largest and perhaps oldest white oak in Albany.

The massive base of that oak sits in the back of the house at that address. I had to peak over the fence to see it.

Big parts of the tree cracked under the weight of the ice and, coming down, substantially damaged the house underneath.

Barnett says that while what remains of the crown does not pose an immediate hazard, it would be a good idea to remove the rest of the oak before next winter. He has written the homeowners to contact him “so we can work with them on what it would take to remove.”

If and when it is taken down, they’ll count the rings and find the age of this big oak. (hh)

The damaged white oak at 1811 Salem Ave. may be the oldest of its kind in Albany.

6 responses to “Landmark oak survives another storm”

  1. Don says:

    A lot of trees in the area are mature trees. Their life span is short. What are people doing to see to there is another tree there?

  2. John Klock says:

    Let’s hear it for oaks. No cheers however, for the developers who cut them down and the city that doesn’t enforce its own regulations regarding protecting oaks. Just another side note, the Willamette Valley is down to less than 5% and declining fast. A grim prediction for this city is that in ten years the agricultural fields will be developed into housing and the old oaks and other arbor giants will be gone. Not a happy legacy to leave your children.

    • DSimpson says:

      We’ve planted three oaks at our house in the last couple years. If people have the space, they are beautiful landscape trees. For anyone planting new oaks, or newly landscaping around existing ones, keep in mind that they don’t tolerate regular landscape watering. Unlike most of the firs in the valley, the oaks are well adapted for our regular dry spells over the summer. If more people (with the space) planted these beautiful, native trees, we’d all be better off for it.

    • Bob Woods says:

      I don’t know how familiar you are with Oregon land use laws, but the growth that will occur will be within the Urban Growth Boundaries. Protection of farmland is one of Oregon’s strongest goals.

      That’s why we don’t look like California.

    • Pat Essensa says:

      The trees on Franklin street look pretty rough

  3. David Ballard says:

    One reason the “messenger oak” faired as well as it did is because there are three or four cable wires counterbalancing opposing loads from limbs high up in the tree. An idea and engineering feat which seems to have performed well under the ice load.


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