Bradford Grows Miracle Tree From Longfellow’s Lost Oak


Courtesy of Jim Bradford

Before the renovation, Mr. Bradford tried to save an old growth oak tree. Now, he’s growing a new one from the 10-year old acorns.

Twelve years ago, in what is now the lecture hall, science teacher Jim Bradford, chained himself to an oak tree in an attempt to save it when the new wing was built.

“It’s a shame that people cut trees down instead of thinking of alternative possibilities,” said Bradford. “It was one of the largest and most beautiful trees on the property.”

He was ultimately unsuccessful in that effort, but that didn’t stop him from finding a way to help the tree live on.

Chaining himself to the tree was just a political stunt, but it did affect others. The newspaper wrote an article about it, and students started raising awareness for the tree.

Before the tree met its end, Mr. Bradford would take his students outside near the track, where they would collect acorns to study and analyze for class. They collected several large containers of acorns that have been used in the classroom over the years.

“What I would do is have students observe the acorns, find out their mass and length and width, and submerge them in water to find out their volume by liquid displacement. One day I thought ‘it would be nice if we could grow a tree,’” explained Bradford

So last year, he decided to try and plant the acorns. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to plant them, so he researched it. He wasn’t sure how long acorns were able to withstand not being planted. So he researched it, and every site he researched said most acorns can live for six months. The possibility that they would sprout was very low. He tried to do it anyway.

He planted some in front of his house and some in the back of his house.  After five weeks with no sign of a tree, he wasn’t very hopeful.  But it wasn’t just the age of his acorns that was a problem; squirrels had also discovered his acorn stashes. He found the dirt torn up around where he had planted. First, they got the ones in the front yard and then the ones in the back.

He had pretty much given up hope and was instead planting chrysanthemums when against all odds, he saw an acorn with a little sprout. He decided to plant it in a pot on the front porch where he could keep an eye on it. The next week he found the sprout ravaged with the acorn bitten around the sprout. Of course, a squirrel had found it.

He brought the tree inside after that.  He watched it closely – and within a month the tree first lost all of its leaves and then over the next month grew a dozen new ones.

A few months later he had a foot-high tree with close to 20 leaves.

As Fall approached, Bradford realized that  his tree would need to go through the normal cycle of losing its leaves and becoming dormant during the winter. He placed it on his back porch and watched sadly as the leaves changed color and fell off.

“It is difficult to watch the leaves die, but I try to reassure myself that it is what all the oak trees in the neighborhood are doing right now,” said Bradford. “Hopefully, it will come back fully in the Spring.”

Bradford is excited to carry on the legacy of Longfellow’s mighty oak.