Fayette County

The people have spoken. This may soon be the official tree of Lexington.

Doug Witt, left, and his niece, Laura Greenfield, gather acorns from Babe, a giant, centuries-old bur oak on Oakland Farm, which has been in their family since 1876. They grow and sell small trees propogated from those acorns and hope to expand to grow seedlings of famous heritage trees from throughout Central Kentucky.
Doug Witt, left, and his niece, Laura Greenfield, gather acorns from Babe, a giant, centuries-old bur oak on Oakland Farm, which has been in their family since 1876. They grow and sell small trees propogated from those acorns and hope to expand to grow seedlings of famous heritage trees from throughout Central Kentucky. teblen@herald-leader.com

After towering over Lexington for centuries, the bur oak is finally getting its due.

In an online and paper vote, Lexingtonians overwhelmingly chose the bur oak as the official tree of Lexington.

The bur oak received 697 votes, or 72 percent, followed by the chinkapin oak with 173 votes and the Shumard oak with 93 votes. There were five write-in candidates.

But don’t hang a sash on your bur oak tree yet.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council still has to vote to approve the bur oak as the city’s official tree. On Tuesday, the council’s Environmental Quality and Public Works Committee heard a presentation about the Lexington Tree Board’s push for an official tree. The committee won’t take a vote until its Feb. 20 meeting and a vote by the full council likely won’t happen until sometime in the spring.

Tim Queary, an urban forester with the city, said during Tuesday’s committee meeting the board has discussed having an official city tree for more than a year. In 2004, the oak was named the national tree. Based on that selection, the city’s tree board picked three types of oaks to put on the ballot. The board voted to select the bur oak, but opted to open voting to the public for several weeks this fall.

“We felt that all three were worthy of the recognition,” Queary said of the three types of oaks.

All three are native to Kentucky. Bur oaks were once plentiful in the area prior to white settlement, said Urban County Councilman Jake Gibbs, who is on the tree board.

“The bur oak was the most predominate tree of our landscape,” Queary said. “There are some that are 300 years old.”

The campaign for an official tree for Lexington is part of a larger push to educate the public about the importance of trees and the economic impact of the city’s tree canopy.

A 2012 report by Davey Resource Group found that 25 percent of all land inside the city’s urban service area was covered by trees. That’s just shy of the national average of 27 percent, but it’s far less than national recommendations of 45 percent. Cincinnati’s tree canopy is around 40 percent.

An updated tree canopy report was released in November 2015. It found that Lexington’s tree canopy provides approximately $50 million in economic benefits annually — from carbon capture to improving stormwater runoff to generating savings on homeowners’ air-conditioning bills.

Gibbs is also president of the nonprofit Trees Lexington!, a group that formed in November and is dedicated to planting more trees and expanding Lexington’s tree canopy.

The Davey report found that the vast majority of areas with little or no tree canopy in Lexington are on private land. Trees Lexington! is in the process of working with several groups, including Habitat for Humanity, the Hope Center, a homeless shelter, and the Fayette County Public Schools to plant more trees.

“We also want to work with more churches, which often have a lot of land,” Gibbs said.

Louisville started a similar nonprofit in 2015 to address its declining tree canopy.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

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