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Saving the past for the future.


Sometimes Gene Hyde has to battle squirrels and tourists when he's gathering nuts. But Gene Hyde is a determined man. He is a man set on planting seeds from historic trees.

It all started in 1986 when Hyde attended an AFA urban forestry conference. At the meeting he got fired up about historic trees. "An idea just popped into my head," says Hyde, who is the superintendent of grounds and landscaping in Jackson, Tennessee, a community of 52,000 a few miles northeast of Memphis.

"Immediately after the plane landed on the way back from the conference," he recalls, "I jumped in my truck and detoured to Natchez Trace State Park."

The detour was a good long one, but Hyde knew that the park is the home of the Natchez Trace Pecan, thought to be 175 years old. Hyde had routed a trail past the tree in 1977 when he was working for the Tennessee Department of Conservation designing long-distance trails.

"The story goes that one of Andrew Jackson's men brought some pecan nuts home after the Battle of New Orleans," says Hyde. The soldier was walking back along the Natchez Trace and gave the nuts to a woman he met along the way named Sukie Morris.

One of the nuts that Sukie planted grew to be a giant 18 feet in diameter. The Natchez Trace Pecan was the national champ until it was dethroned in 1980 by a pecan tree in eastern Tennessee.

The idea in Hyde's head was to plant a grove of historic trees on a vacant lot in downtown Jackson. Hyde believes that a good city forester must not only be a tree expert, he must also be able to interest people in trees. What better way, he thought, than to plant seeds from historic trees?

"We foresters are long-range thinkers," he says. Hyde envisions a grove of 15 trees, each with a plaque describing the history of the parent tree, and a path winding among them.

The first year he collected a half dozen nuts from the Natchez Trace Pecan and planted them in pots. He checked on them every day, but two weeks after they germinated, the squirrels dug up and ate the nuts.

The following year he was ready for the squirrels. He built a four-sided box topped with hardware cloth to let in air and sunshine. But that was a drought year, and the nuts were too poor to germinate.

Gene Hyde is a patient man. The next year was a magnificent seed year. "A lot of people were there gathering nuts," he recalls, "and I had gotten so protective of the tree that I wanted to shout, `Give me those nuts.'" Despite the competition, he collected 120.

Two-thirds of the nuts germinated, and Hyde began giving away the seedlings. One went to a woman in St. Louis who is starting historic groves on the grounds of schools. Hyde sent another to Austin, the city in Texas battling to save its own historic tree - the poisoned Treaty Oak. (See AMERICAN FORESTS, September/October 1989.) Others went to city foresters across the state of Tennessee in hopes of interesting them in starting their own historic groves.

Both of Gene Hyde's grandfathers owned sawmills, and his uncle is a lumber broker. "I have sawdust in my blood," he says.

As for Gene Hyde's historic grove, it's got a ways to go. But he's a patient man.

The American Forestry Association's Famous and Historic Tree program is being expanded to include historic trees from all over the country. We've formed a partnership with the Classic Tree Company in Jacksonville, Florida, and they are helping AFA by gathering seeds.
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Title Annotation:Gene Hyde on historic trees preservation
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:column
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Recycling the urban forest.
Next Article:The End of Nature.

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