Auburn University’s Dr. Gary Keever has spent the last couple of years propagating shoots from the roots of the Toomer’s oaks — essentially growing trees with the identical genetic makeup as the famous oaks.
These clones, ranging from about two to four or five feet high, are on sale now, allowing the Toomer’s oaks that the Auburn family has loved to not truly be lost.
After the oaks were poisoned, Keever went to gather cuttings to propagate, but the initiative was kept secret in case the shoots did not make it.
“They immediately collapsed; there was simply too much poisoning in them,” Keever said.
Keever waited until early summer of last year, after the Toomer’s oaks had been cut down, to go back for more cuttings.
“The little shoots come from the tree’s roots, and the people at Facilities thought it was unattractive so they said, ‘OK, you’ve got until this time to collect your cuttings, then we’re going to cut them down,’ “ Keever said. “We went there and took as many as we could and put them in the greenhouse in mist.”
Turns out, Keever and his colleagues rooted over 2,100 trees. The trees have been under attentive care, being irrigated three times daily, fertilized, pruned and trained to grow upright.
The trees will run for $125 each and, until October when they become dormant and easier to transport, the trees will only be available for pickup.
But when buyers pick up their tree, they also get to pick it out — like picking a pumpkin at a patch, just with a little more Auburn spirit.
“It’ll be up to the purchaser; if they have a preference, they’re welcome to pick out their clone,” Keever said.
Each tree will come with a certificate of authenticity, information about the trees and instructions on how to care for the tree.
The money raised through the sales will benefit the Thomas H. Dodd Jr. Endowed Professorship in Horticulture, which was established to honor the late Dodd and support horticulture education at AU.
“Tom Dodd Jr. was a well-known plantsman; he provided almost all the plants on campus for a decade or more,” Keever said.
Aside from the clones, which provide a direct link to the Toomer’s oaks, there are also about 30 seedling oaks for sale that grew from acorns of the Toomer’s oaks.
They have been growing since 2008, and reach up to about 10 feet or more.
For those interested in purchasing a tree, call Amanda Nims, development coordinator for the College of Agriculture, at 334-844-1475, or Heath Hoffman at 334-844-4660. You can also order online at https://tpg.auburn.edu/ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=2227.
Since shoots can be cut from growing trees, Keever’s system of growing the clones is self-sustaining, so that Toomer’s oaks can be generated for years to come.
“The whole process, in spite of losing the tree — it’s been positive for me,” Keever said. “The interaction with the media, the faculty and other researchers — it’s just been a lot of good to come out of it. Us working up there and taking the soil out — there had been people who had been to school here in the ’60s come by, and they would thank us for what we were trying to do. It just means a lot. It keeps you working; it’s tremendous motivation.”