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Venerable Trees

As you walk around Central Kentucky, look up. You’ll see some towering trees that have been growing in the area for centuries.

Tom Kimmerer, chief scientist for Venerable Trees, Inc., says that Central Kentucky has possibly the largest population of ancient trees of any inhabited place in North America. He explains that when settlers arrived in the region, there were already open fields that they could use as pastures, and so they didn’t clear the land the way settlers in other areas did. That means that many of the trees that stood at that time were spared and still exist today.

Kimmerer chose the name “Venerable Trees” to describe the respect these trees deserve without pinning down a specific age. He says it’s impossible to tell a tree’s age just by looking at it, and obtaining a section of wood to accurately determine the age is labor intensive.

“We’ve probably aged a dozen or so trees in the Lexington area, and they all come out in the 300 to 500 year age range,” says Kimmerer. “We have a couple from Woodford County that are older.”

Many ancient trees die due to development, soil compaction, and mower damage. Venerable Trees, Inc., exists to ensure a future for those trees through working with landowners to maintain the ancient trees on their property.

“We believe strongly in the magic of mulch,” Kimmerer says. “Properly mulching a tree will keep the mower away from the tree. Just as importantly, mulch soil gradually becomes less compacted as organic matter is pulled down by little soil critters. So mulch is a wonderful thing. And that’s true for all trees, not just for these ancient trees.”

Some of the centuries-old trees may look like they’re not long for this world, but they’re tougher than people think. Kimmerer says they can survive some severe damage, including lightning strikes.

“We need to become more tolerant of trees that look [damaged] because these trees are likely to live hundreds of years more,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with these trees. Trees are built differently than we are. When they get a wound they don’t heal the wound, they wall it off chemically, and then they go on living quite happily.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2313 which originally aired on May 19, 2018. Watch the full episode.