On Wednesday, Dr. Gary Keever was asked by a reporter if signs of new growth on the Toomer’s Oaks had him cautiously optimistic about the trees’ chances for survival.
His reply: “No.”
But based on reactions to news reports of the growth, he’s worried people may be hearing “yes.”
“Based on the steady decline of the trees last fall and into the winter, we knew two things could happen,” says Keever, an endowed professor in Auburn’s Department of Horticulture and point person for the Toomer’s Task Force. “The trees could not leaf out in spring which would mean they were essentially dead or they could leaf out.”
They leafed out.
“But I said, ‘this is just the beginning’,” Keever said. “I’m sure everyone’s very pleased with seeing new growth—it means the trees aren’t dead. But we have so far to go, this is just one step.”
He says making the leap from ‘still alive’ to ‘will survive’ would be “uninformed.”
The trees may not be down for the count, not yet, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win the match—even if they’re never officially declared dead.
Keever, who was also an instrumental member of the Committee to Determine the Future of Rolling Toomer’s Corner, envisions a possible scenario in which the trees could stay technically alive, biologically speaking, but be “aesthetically dead.” If so, he says the oaks would likely still be replaced, a course of action approved by Auburn University president Dr. Jay Gogue in January.
“At some point, if the trees continue to decline, we’ll make the recommendation that they won’t likely recover and not contribute even to that space.”
But in the meantime, Keever and Co. are keeping the gloves on.
Thursday morning, workers with the Toomer’s Task Force applied a micronutrient fertilizer to the oaks’ root bed. And they’re currently finalizing the details of an experimental strategy to artificially feed the oaks—Spike 80 DF inhibits photosynthesis and essentially starves a tree— via what Keever says calls a sugar solution IV.
How? He’s not sure.
“We’re trying to work out the details because nobody does it,” he says. “We’ve been in communication with someone in Texas and we’re trying to get a person down from Tennessee to do it.”
The idea comes from a 2009 paper (“Carbohydrate Injections as a Potential Option to Improve Growth and Vitality of Live Oaks”—you can download it here) published by researchers at Texas A&M. If it works, it could provide the trees an energy source for even more new growth this spring. But time is of the essence.
“Whatever we do, we need to do within the next two weeks.”
Keever says that the confirmation that the trees are still alive combined with the possible sugary solution to their food supply problems is “reason to be hopeful,” as always, “but also to be realistic.”
“We have a long way to go before I am again cautiously optimistic.”
More on the the Toomer’s oaks: Here’s what the type of tree that might replace Toomer’s Corner looks like / Wire system being considered as temporary solution for rolling Toomer’s / On the feasibility of a Toomer’s Corner transplant / Toomer’s Corner rollings didn’t start with Punt, Bama, Punt, says History / Did Auburn students celebrate Bear Bryant’s death by rolling Toomer’s Corner
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