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Quercus crassipes acorns with inrolled cupule margin
One of the more well-known Mexican oaks in cultivation.

Blowing Out 25 Candles at Starhill


After our trip in New Mexico, I flew back to Chicago and drove down to Petersburg in Central Illinois.  We were to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the IOS at Starhill Forest Arboretum (SFA) after the European anniversary celebration in the Czech Republic in July. Ryan Russell had suggested SFA as the place to celebrate in the USA. And an obvious choice it was. There is no other oak collection in the world whose history is so intertwined with the history of the IOS. Starhill Forest Arboretum is a mecca for the members of the IOS.

Starhill was created by Edie and Guy Sternberg in 1976. A member of the informal oak group that preceded the IOS, Guy was instrumental in the creation of the Society and its later incorporation. He has often written about it, how he established strong friendships, traveled the world and… procured acorns for their collection, thanks mainly to the International Oak Society and its members scattered all over the planet

The Sternberg Residence: evidence of a severe case of oak addiction

Some of the participants of the event had arrived on the Friday night, September 1, and stayed at the Riverbank Lodge in Petersburg, famous for the Q. ×warei planted just in front of it.  This tree is almost as renowned within oak circles as the Q. texana growing by the I-55 near New Madrid in north-eastern Missouri. It has now been named Q. ×warei ‘Riverbank’ (see International Oaks 28, p. 89). We shared a friendly dinner at the Riverbank Tavern.

On Saturday morning, 24 members and nonmembers showed up at Starhill. The day started with an introduction of every attendee. Twenty-three were from the USA, mostly Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Nebraska. Only one European attended, the author of these lines. I must indeed be the only Belgian who has come 4 times to Petersburg, Illinois and I hope I will have the opportunity to go back. Guy talked about some of his selections, particularly the offspring of Q. ×warei, starting with the tree at the Riverbank Lodge, or hybrids of Q. ×warei with other oaks. He then detailed the program for the day. We all received a folder with a few documents related to the day and the history of the Society. Guy’s phenomenal acorn collection was also on display for the occasion.

Guy Sternberg's acorn and gall collection

There followed a couple of demonstrations, a pruning demonstration by Guy Sternberg in person (see International Oaks 24, p. 151), and a chainsaw mill demonstration by Scott Pantier, manager and arborist at Starhill. One of Scott’s hobbies is log milling. “He is using a chain-saw mill that can be set up in the field and eliminates the need to haul the whole logs to town. His saw has a long bar and the chain is designed for end-grain cutting, with very little bevel on the lead edge. He can use large logs that otherwise would have to be cut into firewood or left to decay.” (Guy Sternberg, pers. comm.)

Pruning demonstration
Chainsaw mill demonstration

We then walked back for lunch. Edie had brought in a local caterer. The weather was sunny and we all had lunch on the lawn in front of the field lab.  We had also brought some acorns to close lunch with a traditional seed exchange.

Ryan Russell had brought a specimen of the cultivar which is his selection, Q. ×schuettei 'Silver Shadow', to mirror the planting done in July at the Plaček Quercetum to commemorate the silver (25th) anniversary of the Society. This new cultivar is described in the latest issue of International Oaks (see International Oaks 28, p. 89). Just after lunch, we proceeded with the planting ceremony in South Field.

Dave Leonard and young Rowan Oak Chatwin

The youngest attendee of the Society's anniversary celebration took an active part in the operation showing talent and promise as a future plantsman.  His middle name might have indicated such predisposition: Rowan Oak Chatwin, son of Ivy (is it a family tradition?) and Warren Chatwin.  I suggest that the responsibility to plant the 50th anniversary memorial tree at Starhill in 2042 be assigned to Rowan right away.    

After the planting, Guy also took the traditional group picture. 


Starhill Forest Arboretum - group picture (photo Guy Sternberg)


We then split into three groups, each headed to a different part of the arboretum. I followed Warren Chatwin to the Bur Oak Field, a field with trees from all over the natural range of the species. The group very quickly split into smaller groups and eventually I ended up alone wandering about South Field.

South Field, Starhill Forest Arboretum

Although there are other species than Quercus in the arboretum, the oak collection amounts to nearly 240 taxa, of which about a third are hybrids and cultivars.

Quercus ×byarsii (Q. michauxii × macrocarpa), from WC Missouri, South Field, Starhill Forest Arboretum
Quercus oglethorpensis, South Field, Starhill Forest Arboretum
Quercus austrina, lot I, South Field, Starhill Forest Arboretum

I had just walked to West Hill when Guy called me to come back to the Field Lab. Most participants were quietly conversing on the lawn. The day ended for some of us with an early dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Petersburg. On Sunday morning, I dropped by the Arboretum and drove back to Chicago.


All photos by the author (except when otherwise mentioned)

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