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Last updated 5:10AM ET
February 27, 2021
Auburn Protects Old Oaks
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - The live oaks of Toomer's Corner, frequently festooned with toilet paper after Auburn University victories, are enduring landmarks. But how long they will endure is an open question.

They breathe a constant cloud of car exhaust. The trees' roots are covered by pavement and compacted soil. Their branches are regularly blasted with high-pressure hoses to remove the dangling paper. The trees, believed to be well over 100 years old, suffer regular abuse at their post at the entrance to the campus at Magnolia Avenue and College Street.

In recent years, a chunk was taken out of one of them by a truck that was fleeing police. Then there was the time someone lit the toilet paper on fire.

"It turned into a big burning bush," said Scott Enebak, a plant pathologist in Auburn's School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences.

Enebak makes a monthly check on the trees. They're showing signs of decline, particularly the tree closest to Magnolia, with some limbs dying out, he said.

"It is hard to say how long they will live, it could be another 50 years or they could die in the next five," Enebak said. "The trees are fine considering what they've been through. They are in pretty good shape considering what happens to them each fall."

Live oaks are more often found closer to the coast and can grow much larger and live longer there, Enebak said. "They have some live oaks on the coast 300-plus years."

While not much can be done about the conditions the trees live under, Enebak says the pressure-washing after games causes limbs to break and will hasten the trees' demise.

"The blasting is going to shorten the life of the tree," Enebak said. "I wish they would stop."

There is another option, which Enebak said he does not endorse. "Auburn could stop winning and that would help."

Who planted the oaks at Toomer's Corner is lost to history. "The oldest picture they've found is from 1910 in which the trees look to be about 20 years old," Enebak said.

The toilet-paper rolling of the area around Toomer's corner probably began in the early 1960s and used to be performed only after victories in away games. But now every victory merits a rolling of the trees at the corner.

John Mouton, senior adviser to the president for campus planning, said the pressure-washing of the trees will continue unless another way to clean off the toilet paper can be found.

"I don't disagree that it is not healthy for the trees to do the power-washing, but the alternative is to leave the toilet paper on the trees. We've tried to use soaker hoses and that didn't work," Mouton said. "If someone has a suggestion, we would try alternative methods."

Both the School of Forestry and the university are exploring ways to replace the trees if they die. In 2003, members of the forestry school planted 20 trees grown from acorns from the oaks.

"It'll be another five years before someone looking at them would say that is a tree," Enebak said. "And it will be another 10 to 20 years before they look like a nice-looking live oak.

"If this plan works, we will be able to replace the trees on the corner with their own children, so to speak."

If death comes sooner, rather than later, the university is looking into the availability of more mature oaks that could be planted in their place.

Each year, the Auburn Forestry Club gathers acorns and grows seedlings, which it sells to the Auburn faithful for $50 a tree. The sale generates money for scholarships to the School of Forestry. The club usually sells 400 to 500 a year, Enebak said. It will have another batch of 800 ready for this season.

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