AUBURN, Ala. — The arrival of an early spring season has produced early signs of growth on the two live oaks at Toomer’s Corner, but the two trees are still showing signs of decay from Spike 80DF, the herbicide used to poison the trees in 2010. Gary Keever, the Auburn professor of horticulture leading the effort to save the two oaks, believes Auburn’s team of scientists needs more information before he can update the tree’s chances for survival.
Keever and a team of scientists used a bucket lift to inspect the canopies of Toomer’s Oaks early Thursday morning before addressing the media. “We looked at the canopy, there’s some sizable branches that are already dead up in the tree, but there are also many new shoots forming, new leaves developing, that aren’t showing any signs of herbicide poisioning,” Keever said.
According to the police, Alabama fan Harvey Updyke laced the soil around the trees with Spike 80DF late last fall, and Auburn’s horticulture department has been fighting to save the trees from dying throughout the past year.
Early assessments from Auburn’s team of scientists indicated that the two live oaks would likely die, but the new leaves sprouting across the upper branches of both trees are an encouraging sign.
“You look at our alternative,” Keever said. “If we didn’t have that new flush growth on the trees now, they’d essentially be dead.”
Auburn’s horticulture department will monitor the trees closely over the growth cycle of the next 4-6 weeks to determine how much effect the herbicide is having on the two trees.
A year ago, leaves sprouted from the branches during the spring, quickly turned from red to yellow to brown and fell, an indicator that the herbicide had infected the tree.
Until the leaves stay in full bloom throughout an entire growth cycle, Keever and his cohorts will not know whether or not the trees are on their way back from the effects of the poison.
Auburn’s team of scientists have also taken soil and foliar samples from the trees, When those samples have been analyzed, Keever said, Auburn will know how much herbicide is still present in the zone where the tree is likely to be taking water and nutrients.
“As we progress over the next 4-6 weeks, depending on herbicide symptom development, we’ll have a much better idea of if we’re likely to repeat what we saw last year,” Keever said.\An exploratory committee has been formed at Auburn to suggest new options to preserve the rolling tradition of Toomer’s Corner in case the trees die, but Keever’s first priority is to try to save the two live oaks.
Right now, Toomer’s Oaks are being treated with a liquid fertilizer program every two weeks, and on March 26, the trees will be injected with a sugar solution to help supplement the tree’s lost production of food.
Spike 80DF is a photosynthesis inhibitor, meaning it kills plant life by shutting down the plant’s ability to make food.
In addition, the trees will be pruned over the next several weeks to remove dead branches that could become hazardous.
“There is concern for a few limbs in the tree, and we don’t want them to become hazard limbs,” said Stephen Enloe, an associate agronomy and soils professor at Auburn. “So we’ll go ahead and be removing some of the dead wood over the next couple of weeks.”