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West Ashley’s (un)official Tree

The Pole Tree embodies the resilient and relentless spirit of West Ashley

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November 27, 2014
By Bill Davis |
News Editor

Johns Island may have the Angel Oak. Athens, Ga., may have the “Tree That Owns Itself.” The General Sherman sequoia and drive-through redwoods can call California home.

Bahrain’s Tree of Life may be the original site of the Garden of Eden. And, sure, the Avenue of Baobabs of Madagascar is certainly impressive.

But all of these famous trees may soon bow in respect to a tree that calls West Ashley home.

The majestic and hardy … Pole-Tree!

Pronounced “poultry,” or “pole-tree,” or maybe both, it takes its name from its environmental niche, a circular perch atop a sawn-off telephone pole.

For the better part of the past decade the Pole-Tree has towered, sort of, over Windermere Boulevard where the back driveway of the shopping center spills into the main road across from the library. Well, maybe “towered” is a bit too strong a word. Maybe “hunched.”

While the Angel Oak’s circumference is a bloated 25 and one-half feet, Pole-Tree’s waistline is a more girlish 14 inches. And it stands close to 13 feet tall, but it would stand taller if five years or so ago, the owner of the duplex where it resides hadn’t trimmed it back to more bush-like dimensions.

The enzymes in the roots had probably already hollowed-out sections of the pole beneath it, giving them a better chance of reaching the soil and surviving, according to Dr. Anthony Keinath, professor of plant pathology at Clemson’s Coastal Research and Education Center, which is housed in the federal Department of Agriculture U.S. Vegetable Laboratory on Savannah Highway.

Charleston County extension agent Zack Snipes, whose usual specialty is commercial vegetables and small fruits, is at first baffled whether Pole-Tree is a bush or a tree. Snipes had been a student of Keinath’s.

The dividing lines between a bush and a tree are 13 feet in height and three inches in diameter of the main trunk, according to Snipes.

The height of Pole-Tree is further diminished because it stands three feet off ground atop the pole, with its roots splitting the pole on their way back to Mother Earth.

“But it has been pruned back,” Zack says, looking at the scars of a prior snipping.

“It’s a wax myrtle, to be more exact,” says Susan McLeod-Epstein, a horticulturalist at the Charleston Horticultural Society in charge of plantations and tours.

McLeod-Epstein’s office sits within mere feet of the Pole-Tree. “I never gave it a second thought,” admits society executive director Kyle Barnette, whose window looks out over the tree, framing its majesty. “I thought it was a bush.”

McLeod-Epstein said the wax myrtle is often referred to as a “candleberry” tree, because Native Americans and colonists used it a a source for making candles. “See how waxy the leaves are,” she says breaking one in half, sniffing heavily from her palm. “And fragrant.”

According to a hardback edition of the compendium “Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Garden Plants,” located on a shelf in the library directly across the street, the Pole-Tree is even more specifically a myrica cerifera, a deciduous evergreen that is close kin to the bayberry trees of the coastal region.

According to that encyclopedia, the wax myrtle is praised for its “ability to withstand challenging situations,” presumably like sprouting out of the top of a sawn-off, creosote-soaked pole.

It is also “tolerant of less than ideal soil conditions,” like a tree might find atop a … POLE!

Additionally, the tree “tolerates infertile soil, wet or dry” like one would encounter …  BEHOLD THE MIGHTY POLE-TREE!!!

Now that it is known “what” the tree is, perhaps the bigger question is “why,” or how the tree came to be.

In bent-head discussion, Snipes and McLeod-Epstein come up with three different scenarios that the tree took root on top of the pole.

“Either the wind carried the seed there and it germinated,” said Snipes.

Or… “Or maybe somebody just put it there,” said McLeod-Epstein.

Or … Or … Or … SAY IT!!!

“Or perhaps a bird pooped it out while sitting on top of the pole,” relented Snipes.

Behold the glory and the majesty of West Ashley’s Pole-Tree!

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