Oak Has Good Bud Break

Mending ASU’s symbol

Experimental treatment fixing Arsenal oak’s fungus

Web posted Tuesday, March 25, 2003
| Staff Writer

Arborist Henry Frischknecht points out some of the work that has been done to save the Arsenal Oak on Augusta State University’s campus. The tree contracted a usually fatal disease last year but has survived.
JONATHAN ERNST/STAFF

Henry Frischknecht points to three black, golf ball-size circles on Augusta State University’s Arsenal Oak.

The circles, he says, are remnants of a killer disease. But on this inspection, Mr. Frischknecht smiles with optimism because the cancerlike fungus is diminishing and many more black spots are at his feet – spots of shade cast by the tree’s newly growing, moss-green leaves.

“This is another infection that just came up,” said Mr. Fischknecht, the owner of Empire Tree and Turf in Augusta, referring to the circles he saw during an inspection Tuesday of the oak, which is considered the oldest in Augusta. “But it (the infection) is nothing like it was. It’s really looking a lot better than I had thought it would.”

Named for the old Augusta Arsenal, the tree is the symbol for Augusta State University. It is listed as about 400 years old on a school marker but is probably closer to 250 years old, Mr. Frischknecht said.

The oak was infected last year with hypoxylon canker, a tree disease that is almost always fatal. It had many black spots of infection, and school officials wondered whether the tree would make it through the winter.

But because of an experimental treatment by Mr. Frischknecht, recent heavy rains and constant watering, the tree is now generating new life, Mr. Frischknecht said.

Max Brown, Augusta State’s grounds supervisor, also is expressing optimism.

A new black spot, indicating an infected area, has appeared next to a section of the Arsenal Oak that was removed last year to help control a wide swath of infection that threatened the tree. Mr. Frischknecht found three black spots Tuesday in an inspection.
JONATHAN ERNST/STAFF

“Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, we should have pretty good leaf out on the tree,” he said. “You would expect the tree to be in a lot worse shape had Henry not applied his treatments.”

Mr. Frischknecht said the tree is now looking its best since the beginning of the past winter. He said he plans to inject more of his experimental treatment into the tree, adding that more than 50 percent of the tree’s branches would now be dead had it not been treated.

New foliage also is good news for a second effort to preserve the tree.

“They are going to clone it,” Mr. Brown said. “They’re looking at some time after a good leaf out, maybe sometime in May. I know they need some good tissue.”

The original Arsenal Oak must still battle the upcoming heat from the spring and summer.

“I’m encouraged at this point, but that doesn’t mean anything until we get into some warm weather,” said Mr. Brown, noting that if drought conditions return, the tree could again become susceptible to the killer disease.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3904 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.

–From the Wednesday, March 26, 2003 printed edition of the Augusta Chronicle