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Gary Keever and the Case of The Toomer’s Oaks Mystery Streaks

Mystery Marks: Only one side of one of oak developed 12 ft. fissures seemingly overnight sometime this past winter.

They appeared over the winter—two vertical fissures only on the southwest side of the Toomer’s Corner oak closest to College Street. They look like the marks left on a tree if it’s struck by lightning, except they don’t—lightning tracks start at the top of the tree and end at the bottom. The fissures on the Toomer’s oak only extend 12-15 feet up the trunk. And no one knows what they are.

“Those are interesting aren’t they,” says Auburn horticulture professor Dr. Gary Keever, who included photos of the “unknown streaks” in Auburn University’s latest official update on the oaks’ condition. “I’ve talked with a dozen people about that. It’s not the classic signs of lightning.”

The visiting Tennessee arborists who assisted in the trees’ recent sugar injections agreed.

“They speculated that it might be herbicide,” Keever said. But since research on trees that have been deliberately poisoned is scant at best, there’s no list of symptoms to check.

“The speculation was that the herbicide might have been dumped or dropped right there on that side of the trees and that the sheer dose on that side might have caused that,” Keever said. “But it really defies explanation.”

Keever says the fissures aren’t deep and haven’t caused any observable rot. If the trees continue to live, he theorizes that new bark will eventually cover the resulting gaps.

Related: Here’s what the type of tree that might replace Toomer’s Corner looks like.

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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