Amidst the destruction that Hurricane Harvey brought to coastal Texas, one giant oak tree stood tall. Very tall, in fact. ‘The Big Tree’ of Rockport is one of the largest live oak (quercus virginiana) trees in the United States, at nearly 14 meters (45 feet) tall. Usually larger trees are more vulnerable to high winds. When Harvey made landfall in Rockport, it brought 175 kpm (108mph) winds and heavy rain. Many of the smaller trees nearby were ripped from the ground or torn apart, but The Big Tree sustained surprisingly little damage. Due to the tree’s low center of gravity and extensive root system, it remained firmly in place.
Although some now say the tree may be closer to 2000 years old, even conservative estimates age the tree well over 1000 years. This means that in its youth, The Big Tree provided shade for Native Americans as they took a break from fishing oysters along the coast. It would be more than 500 years until it was discovered by the western world.
The Big Tree has lived a long and healthy life, but not without its share of disasters. During the American Civil War, Rockfort was bombarded by Union troops, reducing the town to rubble. Incredibly, the tree managed to survive among the ruins. For the survivors, it became a monument to the past, providing continuity in times of great change. The tree finally received official recognition in the 1930s, when the area was named Goose Island State Park, and a fence was built around it for protection.
Hurricane Harvey is far from the first hurricane that The Big Tree has experienced. It has already survived between 40 and 50 hurricanes during its lifetime, and is sure to survive more. Neither the winds, nor the rain, nor the lightning have managed to cut it down.
As Texans survey the damage from the hurricane, they can look to The Big Tree as a testament to survival. The roots of the community run deep, and they will rely on this strength as they begin to rebuild.