Harrison County

First Friendship Oak offshoots planted in Long Beach

AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD 
 Community and business leaders ceremonially plant a tree to kick-off the Hancock Bank Perseverance Oaks program on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at Long Beach Town Green. Saplings grown from acorns of the iconic Friendship Oak on University of South Mississippi's Long Beach campus were planted.
AMANDA McCOY/SUN HERALD Community and business leaders ceremonially plant a tree to kick-off the Hancock Bank Perseverance Oaks program on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at Long Beach Town Green. Saplings grown from acorns of the iconic Friendship Oak on University of South Mississippi's Long Beach campus were planted. SUN HERALD

The first three saplings grown from acorns dropped by the Friendship Oak were planted Tuesday at the nearby Long Beach Town Green.

Three more of the "Perseverance Oaks" will be planted Wednesday at Jones Park in Gulfport and more will begin to take root in spots across the Coast in the fall.

The hope is in 100 years, South Mississippi will have the kind of tree canopy that existed 100 years ago, said John Hairston, president of Hancock Holding Co., parent company of Hancock Bank.

Not long after 2005's Hurricane Katrina -- and before a program or funding were in place -- he and others from Hancock Bank took the first steps to propagate a new generation of Live oaks. Acorns from the Friendship Oak, which grows on the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, were collected and the landscaping crew planted them, "just to get started," Hairston said. "In those days we didn't know how many oaks would survive."

A test group of acorns sprouted and Hancock Bank leaders transferred them to a local nursery and then to the Mississippi State Coastal Research and Extension Center to grow.

They now stand about 4 feet tall, about the size of second- and third-grade gifted students from Reeves Elementary School in Long Beach who attended Tuesday's ceremony. Each child had a photo taken with the new tree and Hairston urged them to return every year and snap a photo to show how they and the trees have grown.

"Ultimately, this is a gift to you," he told the students.

Hancock Bank last year announced a multi-year, multi-phase program to replenish the Live oaks and teamed with USM and the Sun Herald to replant them.

"Over the years storms, development and just natural diseases have culled a number of these beautiful trees," Hairston said.

The partnership will begin identifying the Coast's most hardy and beautiful Live oaks and harness what Hairston called the "incredible genetic horsepower" by hosting acorn gatherings at landmark Live oaks for future plantings.

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