Wonder

Stelmužė Oak

Stelmužė Oak in 2015
Stelmužė Oak in 2015./ Anaiptol, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

WorldBlue  In short

The largest tree in Lithuania is Stelmužė Oak. This giant has a circumference of 9.7 m at a height of 1.3 m.

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GPS coordinates
55.8299 N 26.2174 E
Location, address
Europe, Lithuania, Utena County, Zarasai District, Imbrade Parish, near Stelmužė manor house, at Stelmužė Lord Jesus Cross Church
Name in Lithuanian
Stelmužės ąžuolas
Species
English oak (Quercus robur L.)
Circumference
Approximately 9.7 m at the height of 1.3 m (2014)
Height
˜ 22 m

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WorldYellow In detail

Stelmužė Oak in April 2014 with Stelmužė Lord Jesus Cross Church in the background
Stelmužė Oak in April 2014 with Stelmužė Lord Jesus Cross Church in the background./ VietovesLt, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Dear grandfather

This enormous tree grows at the far end of Stelmužė Manor park and next to it in 1650 was built the wooden Stelmužė Church of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ with an interesting Baroque-style interior and a bell tower of the same age next to it.

Several legends are linked to the tree, including the stories of treasure that is hidden under it. There is a belief that this is a prehistoric idol tree, and the holy fire was burned near it.

The measured height of the tree is around 22 meters, but the measured circumference at a height of 1.3 m is approximately 9.7 m (2014) (2.).

Stelmužė Oak is a protected natural monument since 1960. People have taken care of the tree since 1916 at least – the branches are supported, the hollow is covered and the tree is protected by a decorative fence from trampling. Specialists are researching and proposing ways to extend the life of the tree. Nevertheless, Stelmužė Oak is an aging tree that inevitably is nearing its end. In March 2021 one of the five large branches fell down.

Controversies about the age

More than 1,500 years?

Somehow, very lively is the belief that Stelmužė Oak is extremely old, even more than 1,500 or 2,000 years old. This is not substantiated by data, as the central part of the tree has been hollowed out and it is not possible to count the tree rings anymore.

Romantic, millennia-old trees?
The mighty trunk of Stelmužė Oak
The mighty trunk of Stelmužė Oak./ Aleksandrs Timofejevs, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

This discussion is not unique to Lithuania – in many European countries, people have considered that the largest trees are thousands of years old.

This is a tradition inherited since the age of romanticism, where the outstanding monuments of nature were linked to the idealized Pre-Christian world, where mankind and nature lived (supposedly) in harmony. Before the coming of Christianity quite a few springs, giant stones, caves, also large trees served as sites of devotion of diverse kinds indeed.

But, such a tree had to be really large already in the paganic ages, which, in the case of Lithuania was not later than in the 15th century. But, there is almost no chance that an oak, that had a large size in the 15th century, survived until the 21st century.

Measuring the age of trees

There is no convincing data about the maximum age of oak trees because there are just two reliable methods to measure their age: a) to document the time of their planting – which, of course, is not done for a vast majority of trees; b) to count the tree rings – what, in the case of old trees is almost never possible because of the hollows that form in the core part of the tree.

Maximum age of oak trees

Nevertheless, the accrued data in the Baltic region shows that the largest oak trees are not millennia old. The size of the largest oak trees can increase fast: for example, Dambji Oak (Latvia) grew from 8.6 m to 9.48 m in 16 years from 2002 to 2018. Kaive Oak (Latvia) grew from 8.5 m in 1924 to 10.55 m in 2019. In general, the circumference of large oak trees increases by some 2 cm in a year. Most likely, no oak trees in the Baltic region exceed the age of 500-600 years.

It would be highly unusual if Stelmužė Oak due to some unknown reasons grew several times slower than the similar-sized oaks in northerly Latvia.

After all, this is not THAT important. There is no doubt that Stelmužė Oak is one of the oldest trees in the Baltics, and, one of the greatest!

References
  1. Stelmužės ąžuolas, Lietuvos Arboristikos Centras, 16 August 2016, Accessed on January 6, 2023.
  2. Pedunculate Oak at the Stelmužė Manor Park, Stelmuže, Utena, Lithuania, Monumental Trees. Accessed on January 6, 2023.

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