Tree consultant Ben Kahlmus climbed up to look inside the Live oak at Lovelace Drugs on Friday and found decay that runs from the top of a main limb all the way to the roots.
The tree, however, is a fighter, he said.
“It shows signs of vigor,” he said and pointed to a big scar at the base, where a driver failed to brake and rammed into the tree years ago.
“That wound is healing,” said Kahlmus, tree preservationist with Fulgham’s Tree Service.
The bark is trying to grow back over the dry wood of the scar.
It’s an indication of vigor when a tree is trying to bounce back like that, Kahlmus said.
The bigger issue for this tree — believed to be one of the originals planted on Washington Avenue many decades ago — is the huge section of decay that runs through it.
It contributes to the canopy that shades the city’s downtown shopping area. In 2012, it harbored a mother cat with three kittens in its hollowed-out middle.
But aldermen and Washington Avenue business people are now concerned that same rotted area might cause the tree to split.
Kahlmus said it’s not up to him to say whether the city should try to save the tree. That would be up to the Board of Aldermen.
He will plug information he collected Friday into an assessment and aldermen can decide based on risk and cost.
Kahlmus tapped the tree’s trunk with a hammer and parts of it sounded like a drum because it was so hollow. He is not the only tree expert who will assess it.
In addition to this evaluation, city leaders voted this week to fund a $3,100 assessment of all 75 of the old trees along the avenue.
This tree is getting a special look because of the immediate problem.
Kahlmus said its damage started 30 or 40 years ago with an injury or a pruning. Now, two halves of the trunk are still trying to come together around the rotted middle.
“It’s doesn’t sound good,” he said. “But the good thing is it’s a Live oak. The Live oak is a strong tree. If it were a water oak, I’d say cut it.”
What he said about Live oaks is amazing. He said they have roots that can extend more than three times the width of the canopy. They search for the scarce nutrients in a confined urban environment. Roots tie together from tree to tree and pull nutrients from a field as far as two blocks away, Kahlmus said.
Aldermen will get a full report soon, but he hasn’t written off the Lovelace oak. Its crown, or leaf structure, is full.
“Is it alive? Absolutely,” he said. “What’s alive is healthy. It might have a chance.”