Tree survived the relatives

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 16, 2004

Leah Wilson remembers playing on its branches as a child.

“My cousin and I would get in trouble because we liked to bounce on the lower limbs,” recalls Wilson with a laugh. “There’d always be somebody around to yell, ‘You can’t do that! That’s the oldest tree in the world!'”

While it may not be the oldest tree in the world, the Alabama Forestry Commission did declare it an Alabama Champion Tree back in 1986 for being the oldest known laurel oak in the entire United States.

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Just how old, however, no one is exactly sure.

“My Uncle Kim says it’s somewhere between 450 to 700 years old,” marvels Wilson, who graduated recently from Auburn University. “I don’t know how old it is.”

The tree is located not far from what Wilson calls “the camp house” of her grandparents, the late Charles and Betty Mayton. The house is located on the banks of the Tombigbee River. To get to the tree visitors must cross an earthen dam and travel down a well-worn roadbed.

A lot of people make that journey, according to Wilson.

“It’s pretty well known,” she says. “A lot of people have heard about it and want to see it. It’s pretty impressive.”

The tree sits in a small clearing, dwarfing everything else in sight. Its massive trunk is of a size that would take at least a dozen people holding hands to encircle it completely.

A modest plaque testifies to the fact that it is, indeed, an Alabama Champion Tree. A solitary bench offers a place for those who are so inclined to pause and reflect upon the transient nature of this life and upon what is and isn’t important.

And, for Wilson, there are the childhood memories of playing on the oldest tree in the world.