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Photos: Joshua Sinischo

From the Heart of a Tree

May 29, 2013

Its roots date back to Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Caribbean, and by the time Napoleon took charge of the land, its canopy had matured.

Throughout the Friendship Oak's 500-year existence, unique characters such as Native Americans, pirates and, more recently, college students, have crossed its path, but the majestic tree continues to attract visitors from regions all over to approach and appreciate the integrity, beauty and depth of its structure.

Its most recent measurements, as recorded in 2011, sum up to provide nearly 16,000 square feet of shelter for wildlife. At 59 feet tall and 19 feet, 9.5 inches around, the Friendship Oak boasts branches that extend an average of 60 to 66 feet from the trunk and 155 feet across the entirety of the tree.

As legend has it, visitors who enter the Friendship Oak's large shadow will remain friends throughout their lifetimes, no matter where fate takes them. For this reason, weddings and other special events frequent the earth beneath its canopy.

Despite the devastating Hurricane Katrina that ripped through the area nearly a decade ago, the Friendship Oak now stands tall and wide on the front lawn of the University of Southern Mississippi Golf Park Campus in Long Beach. Visitors can enjoy its presence up close and personal: A platform and stairs, erected by the Long Beach Historical Society and the University of Southern Mississippi, allow visitors to step onto the tree's branches without disturbing the surrounding foliage.

Joshua Sinischo, a Davey Resource Group consulting urban forester with Consumers Energy, has always wanted to visit Long Beach, Miss. - ever since restoration efforts began after Hurricane Katrina had left behind a path of ruin and despair. He had researched the area online, at which point he discovered the existence - and survival - of the Friendship Oak. "I was very intrigued about the tree," Sinischo explains. "And because I'm in the urban forestry field, I had decided I must go see the Friendship Oak."

Friendship Oak tree sign

Last year, Sinischo finally had the opportunity to visit Long Beach - and, of course the Friendship Oak. The trip marked his first visit to Mississippi. "I had never been to the ocean," Sinischo says. Upon arrival, however, the Friendship Oak was his first stop.

They reached the Friendship Oak just in time. "We caught a glimpse of the tree and were able to take some photos right before setup for a wedding began," Sinischo explains. During his short, yet special, visit, Sinischo noticed some significant storm damage still existed in surrounding areas, which were located only 20 minutes from the rental vacation home in which he had stayed. The tree, on the other hand, appeared to be healthy.

According to a sign that stands near the Friendship Oak, "There is not an alumna of Gulf Park College who does not possess, tucked away somewhere along her keepsakes and treasures, a twig, a leaf or an acorn" - that came from the heart of the tree.

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