This section is from the book "The Gardener's Monthly And Horticulturist V18", by Thomas Meehan. See also: Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
We have the following let-ter from Dr. G. W. Russell, of Hartford: "I sent you last year some of the leaves of the Charter Oak, which you thought to be those of the Quercus discolor or Swamp White Oak. As controversy has arisen lately as to the true name of the Charter Oak, some contending that it was Q. alba, others Q. discolor, I write again:
"Genuine leaves of the Charter Oak taken from it after it was blown over, are very variable; those on the upper branches are like those usually delineated and described as the Q. alba. Those which I sent you were probably from the lower branches.
Upon examining several trees of the Q. alba, I find that universally the leaves upon the upper branches are deeply lobed and of the usual form, whilst those upon the lower, and near the trunk, are quite different, being broader and not deeply lobed.
"Those which I sent you were genuine, and probably from the lower branches, and were of this description.
" I am inclined to think that we made a mistake in calling the Charter Oak tree Q. discolor, and that it should be the Q. alba, as has always before been supposed.
" I send you specimens of leaves of an oak which I think to be Q. discolor, very unlike those of the Charter Oak in either form; the tree is ragged in its appearance, bark loose, in large plates, and upon the whole presenting much the appearance of a man ' out at the elbows.' "
[The oak on the grounds of Mrs. Colt, shown to the writer as a seedling from the Charter Oak, is certainly Q. discolor. The leaves sent us from the original tree, were very small, and on a cursory examination we took them to be Q. discolor also. Since receiving this letter of Dr. Russell we have re-examined the little leaves critically, and with numerous specimens of Quercus alba and Q. discolor before us, and find that there are always constant characters distinguishing the two kinds quite independent of the outline of the leaf, (which indeed is very variable) and which enables one to fix the species even though only a portion of the leaf should be under examination. We have now no hesitation whatever in deciding that the original Charter Oak was of Quercus alba, the common white oak.]
In your January number you have some remarks in regard to the species of oak to which this famous old tree belonged. I now send you leaves and acorns gathered this day, Jan. 31, the leaves from the tree, and the acorns from the ground beneath it, by which you will know the species even without seeing them; as Michaux states that the Quercus alba is "the only oak on which a few of the dried leaves exist till the circulation is renewed in the spring; one tree is just now covered with leaves but they continue to blow off with every wind, and by April 1 only a few remain.
You may possibly inquire what tree, when we Bay we gathered them from the tree, and how it is known to have any relation to the Charter Oak? We will tell you.
About the year 1836 or '37, the late Dr. E. W. Bull, of Hartford, who was well known for his love of and deep interest in horticulture and arboriculture, and who had a beautiful residence in that city, on a visit to us, stated that he had reared two young trees out of several acorns he had planted, which he gathered with his own hands from the old tree, and he kindly offered to give us one of them if we would accept it. We, of course, were too glad to do so, and he said that at the proper season he would bring it himself to Boston. His promise was fulfilled, and he put the tree, which was one year old, in his carpet bag, and brought it to Boston. It was so small, and for fear of its being injured or dug up by carelessness, we planted it in a pot, and kept it in the greenhouse and cellar in winter for two or three years. It was then placed out in the open ground, but grew slowly, and was only five or six feet high in 1845 or '6, when it was removed to its present position on the lawn in front of the conservatory.
It is now about 30 ft. high with a handsome head.
This is the history of our Charter Oak, and the tree from which we gathered the leaves. We understood from Dr. Bull some years later, when he visited us for the last time before his sad death, that there were only two seedlings in existence, the one we had and one in his own grounds, and we believe, if our recollection serves us, that after the destruction of the old oak itself, Dr. Bull's specimen was planted out in the identical spot where the old tree stood for so many years before its destruction. Dr. Bull had a real affection for the old oak. He never failed to speak of it, and he sent us two or three engravings of it, one of which he desired us to present a copy of in the Magazine of Horticulture; but the drawing was on so small a scale it would not give a very good representation of the tree, and we laid it aside for the time.
We at one time thought it could not be the Q. alba, but for some years since it has developed itself we think there can be little doubt about it.
[The leaves sent by Mr. Hovey are undoubtedly Quercus alba, the common white oak. It is clear, from all the evidence, that those who have Quercus discolor under culture as seedlings from the original Charter Oak are mistaken. Ed. G. M.]