Harrison County

Can the Friendship Oak be saved? A massive limb has partially broken off.

A large chunk of the Friendship Oak fell from the base of the historic tree at the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus, Friday, Aug. 4, 2017.
A large chunk of the Friendship Oak fell from the base of the historic tree at the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus, Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. ttisbell@sunherald.com

A limb with at least five branches has partially cracked off the iconic Friendship Oak.

The Live oak, more than 500 years old, sits on the front lawn of the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Park Campus. It has long served as a symbol of the campus and the Mississippi Coast.

Its branches spread to and across the ground. The oak survived Hurricane Katrina. When a branch on the tree cracked in 2016, the university’s arborist decided it would have to be removed.

Friday morning, a USM employee noticed another limb was detaching from the gigantic tree, said USM spokeswoman Jenny Tate.

“Our university arborist is assessing the tree in an effort to preserve this Coast icon,” Tate said.

Caution tape surrounded the tree Friday to keep visitors at a distance.

USM’s website features a page on the oak, which is a tourist attraction.

“The tree is loved by former students of Gulf Park College, revered by tree lovers, held in fond memory by those whose wedding ceremonies were conducted on the platform within its mighty branches, and viewed daily by tourists,” it says.

It is said that those who stand under the oak’s shadow will remain friends for life, which is how the tree got its name.

The tree has a circumference of more than 19 feet and its limbs spread an average of 60-65 feet from the trunk. Saplings grown from acorns dropped by the massive oak were planted in 2016 at the Long Beach Town Green.

Sunherald.com is trying to reach USM’s arborist to update this story.

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