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Michigan Bluff’s ancient ‘weather tree’ toppled by winds

900-year-old oak believed by owner to have forecasting powers
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Michigan Bluff’s ancient oak – believed to be 900 years old or more – has been toppled. The massive tree, which spread out over long-time residents Bob and Barbara Phillips’ front yard, fell victim to high winds Saturday. The tree had a reputation not only as the oldest living thing in the area but also as a reliable forecaster of winter weather to come, said Bob Phillips. Phillips, who has lived in Michigan Bluff for 49 years, said the oak was once judged by a UC Davis tree expert to be 900 years old. That would date it back to the time of the Norman conquest of Britain and the end of the Dark Ages. Emily Griswold, UC Davis Arboretum assistant director of horticulture, said Monday that the world’s oldest oaks are in Europe, with one in Lithuania believed to be 1,500 years old. The UC Davis arboretum has one oak estimated to be 400 years old, she said. Phillips has used the Michigan Bluff behemoth’s production of acorns to determine what winter had in store for the Gold Rush community, eight miles east of Foresthill. He’d been told about the tree’s abilities in the 1960s by two lifelong Michigan Bluff residents. If less-than-normal rainfall was coming, the weather tree didn’t produce acorns most years, Phillips said. Griswold said that the amount of falling acorns is an indicator of the past winter rather than the winter to come. The cold from a previous harsh winter will kill bugs, which will allow more acorns to be produced, she said. With wind gusting from the northeast on Saturday, the tree dropped onto an open section of Phillips’ front yard. It was hollow at its base. Just a few jagged edges of healthy tree remained after the rest of the oak broke free. “We couldn’t believe it,” Barbara Phillips said. “But its time had come.” “We expected it would keep on doing what it had to do to live,” said Bob Phillips. The giant trunk and branches now fill much of the Phillipses’s front yard and will be staying where they fell. The couple has already had offers from neighbors to remove the limbs to be used as firewood. But they want it to remain as an artifact for the town. Plans are to move a large piece of quartz near the fallen tree and install a plaque on it to commemorate its longevity and its ability, some believe, to predict winter weather. “It’s been there too long so now it’s going to stay where it is,” Phillips said. “Now it’s going to be forever.” ----------------------------- Fast facts: Acorn answers Bleak future. About one in 1,000 acorns survives to become a full-grown tree. Water needed. Acorn sprouts depend on average rainfall in late winter to take hold. The rain allows the tap root to establish itself in the soil. Acorn uses. Native Americans ate acorn meal but grinding and leaching the types common to this area is hard work with low returns. Leave them for wild turkeys or squirrels Source: UC Davis News Service