Trees provide many gifts—beauty, shade, and shelter, homes for songbirds and small animals—they even manufacture the very air that we breathe. And for some local families, trees give something else . . . special memories.
When John and Renee Allcorn found out that a particular piece of property was for sale, they didn’t really care what the house looked like. What they wanted was the tree.
“People would ask, ‘What does the house look like?’ and I’d answer, ‘I don’t know. It’s got a big tree in front,’ ” Renee recalls with a laugh.
While the house behind the Allcorn’s tree is quite beautiful, for people who come from all over the city to see the nearly 200-year-old live oak, the tree’s the real wonder. Standing almost 70-feet tall, with branches spreading in every direction, the tree is one of the last reminders of an old farm that once stood nearby.
The Allcorns both grew up in the area and have memories of the massive oak from their youngest days.
“When you look at that tree you can’t help but visualize what life would have been and what it looked like around this area before it was developed,” John notes. “Back then, Westheimer was a gravel road and this area was farmland or pasture where people raised animals and lived like the old days.”
The Allcorns have invested a lot of time and money to make sure their tree stays healthy. The builder designed a special slab for the house that provides aeration for the massive tree’s roots. A custom drainage system and pump prevents water from pooling under the tree. The Allcorns hire a specialist twice a year to check on the tree’s health and even installed a lightning rod system to protect it from Houston’s frequent bouts of stormy weather.
“We feel fortunate to be custodians of this tree,” says John Allcorn. “It’s been here a lot longer than we have and will be here after we are gone.”
A couple of post oak trees also influenced Amy and Hardy Murchison’s decision to buy their home. The trees, draped with Spanish moss, give the Murchison’s home a flavor of the Old South. “They hang over our drive and give our house a little bit of character and romance, says Amy.
Not everyone shares the couple’s enthusiasm for old trees, however. “There’s a real trend to have more house and less yard, and a lot of builders don’t want to deal with the hassle of saving old trees,” says Amy Murchison. “I think that’s a real shame because trees really add value to a property.”
The Murchisons have an arborist visit four times a year to keep their trees healthy. It’s expensive, but they think it’s worth every penny. “I enjoy the conveniences of a new home,” Amy says, “but new homes need old trees.”
Some trees are planted for commemorative purposes. Rice University plants an oak tree for faculty members who have been on staff 20 years or more.
Rice also has many other special trees that are part of the Lynn Lowrey Arboretum on campus, including the prized Pershing Pecan planted in 1920 by General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War l.
Two commemorative trees beautify the campus of Condit Elementary. One planted in 1998 honors the contributions of Liz Mitchell, a longtime secretary at the school, and also celebrates the too-short life of 21-month-old David Scott Mitchell, Liz and Ed Mitchell’s first grandson who died from pneumonia.
“The faculty and staff wanted to do something to honor our family in that difficult time,” Liz recalls, “and the tree symbolizes strength.”
The other oak is dedicated to Diane McLaughlin, a beloved veteran teacher who, though officially retired, still tutors and substitute teaches on occasion.
“As you get older you want to have something left that carries your name,” Diane says. “I’m planted deeply at Condit, and this tree symbolizes that.”
No matter what your reason for loving trees—emotional, practical, or something in between—remember that National Arbor Day is April 25. What better time to plant a tree for future generations of Houstonians to enjoy.