Friendship Oak seedlings to be planted along coast

LONG BEACH, MS (WLOX) - A landmark live oak tree that's withstood countless hurricanes over hundreds of year is the focus of a symbolic tree-planting project.

More than 40 years ago, seedlings from the Friendship Oak in Long Beach were planted along the coast to help replace trees that were lost to Hurricane Camille. Hancock Bank is now resurrecting that idea for a post-Katrina tree planting project.

"Jim Buck Ross, at that time Commissioner of Agriculture, and George Schloegel, who was head of marketing at Hancock Bank back then, were concerned because we lost so many trees in the storm. And the most majestic of the oaks on the coast is this one behind me, the Friendship Oak," said John Hairston.

The tall oaks in Gulfport's Greenbriar neighborhood are the result of that post-Camille planting. That successful post-hurricane project will be repeated, with the Friendship Oak once again providing the acorns.

"Last year, when we did harvest them, we could actually just come out here and rake them up and get shovels full. You didn't have to hand pick," said Melissa Brannin, the USM Gulf Coast horticulturist.

Those planted acorns are now six to eight inch tall seedlings. Three hundred young oaks will be nurtured until 2015, then planted on the tenth anniversary of Katrina.

"We'll plant them in very special locations up and down the coast. And from the Friendship Oak, the next generation of oaks will rise," said Hairston.

"It's 500 years old and the legend goes if you stand with anyone under this oak tree, then you will be friends forever," said Dr. Frances Lucas, the VP of USM Gulf Coast.

Although this tree growing project is on a much larger scale, for years people have been picking up acorns here and planting them, hoping to grow their own Friendship live oak.

"They're tough. They can take a lot of abuse. They don't depend on a lot of care from man once they're established. So anytime we can get more trees out there, it's good. Especially from this tree," said Brannin.

John Hairston says a group of community leaders will decide exactly where the oak trees will be planted. The actual planting will probably take place after the first cold snap following the 10th anniversary of Katrina in 2015.

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