Oak Tree Image by in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Oak Tree Image by:

While sitting in the endodontist’s chair getting a root canal, I started thinking about the importance of healthy roots, not only for our teeth, but for nature’s plants and trees as well.  In nature, the purpose of roots are to provide necessary nutrients to sustain the life of a plant or tree.  Then there are our ancestral roots, where relations of past-to-present and how they translate can affect the way we live and decisions we make.  The story I’m about to share combines a little of both; nature’s nourishing roots and our genealogical ones (but no more about root canals).    

An Auburn Oak tree image in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

An Auburn Oak tree image (photographer unknown)

Last year I wrote about Herbie, an elm tree in Yarmouth, Maine, that was dying from Dutch elm disease, and Frank Knight, the caregiver that fought for almost six decades to save him.  This deeply touching story takes place much further south, in Auburn, Alabama, and shares the impact that two eighty year old oak trees had on the town that cherished them over the decades.  Sadly, this tale has a surprisingly diabolical twist . . .

Toomer's Corner Oaks in A Garden for All by Kathy Diemer

Toomer’s Corner Oaks (photo:

It all started with a football game on November 26, 2010, when two nationally ranked football teams, the Auburn Tigers and the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, played in Tuscaloosa for the annual Iron Bowl.  The Auburn Tigers won by a single point that night, and a loyal fan of Crimson Tide was not happy about that.  So unhappy in fact, that he decided to do something unthinkable.  He drove thirty miles to Toomer’s Corner where two stately oaks stood like guardians at the entrance of Auburn University, and proceeded to dump pesticide onto the ground surrounding both trees.

Treating one of the Auburn Oaks in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Treating one of the Auburn Oaks (photo:

As no one knew of the vandalism until the disgruntled fan confessed a few months later (since fined $800,000 along with jail time, and banned forever from the Auburn University grounds), efforts to save the trees over the next two years proved futile.  The weapon of destruction was a chemical called Spike 80DF (also known as Tebuthiuron) and after soil samples were taken, it was estimated that at the highest concentration points there was more than 51 parts per million. In other words, a lethal dose for the Auburn oaks.  Although Auburn University professor of horticulture, Gary Keever, supervised the careful removal of some contaminated soil, tried a variety of treatments from activated charcoal for drawing the chemical out, various fertilizers and irrigation, by July of 2012 it was unanimously decided that the trees had to be removed.

A "Rolled" oak tree in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A “Rolled” oak tree (photo:

Yet, before these broad trunked sentries met their early demise, they were part of a long standing tradition in Auburn.  One that involved rolls of toilet paper . . . lots and lots of it. Originating sometime in the 1960’s, the town would celebrate its football game victories by “rolling the corner” oak trees with streamers of toilet paper.  Quite often, the trees would be so densely covered as to resemble a heavy snowfall. In more recent years, the toilet paper embellishments became a way for the town to celebrate many other events, with one of the last to rejoice Auburn’s win at the BCS National Championship game on January 10, 2011.

Auburn University One-Last-Roll-in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

A “One-Last-Roll” sendoff (photo:

After a final celebratory “rolling” to send them off to tree heaven, the majestic oaks of Toomer’s Corner were cut down on April 23, 2013. The university has been working with several manufacturers to create mementos from the trees’ wood, and royalties collected will benefit Auburn students through a special scholarship fund. “The Oaks at Toomer’s Corner have been a part of Auburn tradition for generations.

One of the Oaks cut down in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

One of the Oaks cut down (photo by:

Their removal will in no way diminish the Auburn spirit, which has grown even stronger during these past two years.” said Debbie Shaw, Auburn University vice president for alumni affairs. “Generations of our fans have gathered beneath the oaks over the years, and it is fitting that future generations of students will benefit from the scholarships they will provide.”

Forever Rooted tee shirt in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Forever Rooted tee shirt (photo:

With redevelopment of the intersection soon underway, and plans for new trees to fill the void by 2015, the Auburn resident’s strong rooted beliefs help maintain their high spirits as they look forward to the next pair of oaks maturing enough to withstand a “rolling”. Ultimately, the outcome will be as they expected; against all odds, goodness has once again prevailed~


  1. What heart breaking story….

    • Heartbreaking in that some dumb a** poisoned trees over a football game-but heartwarming in the way townsfolk tried to save their trees, and when that wasn’t possible, they gave them a celebratory send off. A true example of how much people really care about nature.

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