Harrison County

The Friendship Oak is suffering, but don’t write off this mighty Coast icon.

The University of Southern Mississippi is determined to save the iconic Friendship Oak, which suffered the latest of numerous injuries when a large branch partially separated from the tree on Friday.

Landscape superintendent Loren Erickson said all options are being considered to stabilize the Live oak, which is more than 500 years old and is a symbol of the Coast.

“This tree means everything to the community,” he said. The arborist said he knew of the Friendship Oak before he moved to Mississippi and visited to check its condition after Hurricane Katrina.

A Live oak expert, Malcolm Guidry of Covington, Louisiana, is coming to look at the tree.

“At this point, the remainder of the tree is healthy and stable,” Erickson wrote in a memo to faculty and staff Monday afternoon. “The area has been secured, and the affected branch is supporting itself on the ground.

“There is a possibility that the branch may be able to remain as it is, once pruning has been performed on visibly broken portions. Only the affected branch will be pruned. No other part of the tree will be removed or altered.”

Erickson told the Sun Herald cabling or bracing the branches might be considered, but man’s intervention is not always a good idea. The tree would no longer be able to move naturally.

“The bottom line is, it’s an inexact science and you can love a tree to death pretty quickly,” Erickson said.

“Nobody wants to be the person that intervenes thinking they’re smarter than nature, then getting it wrong.”

He said the tree might take care of itself, as it has been doing for centuries. Branches thicken to support its weight. But the health of this particular branch was compromised back in 2010, when a lightning strike along the trunk and one side of the branch hampered its ability to mend.

The branch was never completely joined to the trunk. He said it further separated from the tree because of all the rain lately.

Live oaks soak up hundreds of gallons of water a day. The branch was so heavy with water, he said, it separated more prominently.

The branch, which has multiple limbs, makes up about 1/5 of the oak’s impressive canopy. One side of the oak now looks bare, but Erickson said higher branches should spread and grow to fill the void.

The tree sits at the front of USM’s Gulf Park campus. The area under its canopy, once open to visitors, was chained off after another branch fell in 2016.

Anita Lee: 228-896-2331, @calee99