No matter what team you root for, it was devastating to hear that the live oaks at Toomer’s Corner at Auburn University probably won’t survive. In one of the more despiciable acts of college pranks, 62-year-old Harvey Almorn Updyke allegedly poisoned the century-old trees to express his displeasure with Auburn’s recent BCS championship win. This wasn’t only an attack on Auburn fans, but an attack on Mother Nature herself.
You’ve surely seen the Toomer’s Corner oak trees, traditionally decorated with toilet paper rolls following a Auburn sports victory. No Alabama fan enjoys watching that iconic tradition, especially after a rival championship win. The Alabama and Auburn rivalry is nothing new, but Updyke, a die-hard Crimson Tide fan (described as a “rabid fan” by several sources), was upset (like many fans) about Auburn’s championship win and questioned Cam Newton’s eligibility. Updyke apparently called a local sports radio show bragging about poisoning the trees days after Auburn’s championship win. He was arrested for criminal mischief earlier this week.
The trees were killed with a strong herbicide, tebuthiuron, also known as Spike 80DF. This powerful chemical is commonly used for large-scale operations, like to kill trees near fence lines and to clear wooded areas for wildlife refuges and railroads. This is not the kind of Weed-B-Gone used in your backyard; it is regulated by state laws and the EPA. No license is required to purchase it in Alabama, but it is expensive and difficult to come buy. You can’t buy it in stores; the only way to get it is through an agriculture co-op or a pesticide distributor.
Spike 80DF is highly concentrated–80% of its ingredients are active. It comes in powder form which is mixed with water then sprayed on trees that need clearing. The chemical blocks the photosynthesis process, killing a tree’s food source first and ultimately its roots. The concentration found on and around the Auburn trees was more than 65 times the lowest possible concentration, and experts said that even a low dose would have killed the trees. The manufacturer, Dow Chemical, says that the herbicide is not a threat to humans or animals; however, tebuthiuron can contaminate ground water and could be a threat to the water table on the Auburn campus.
University spokespeople have determined that the trees will probably die. The oaks were more than 130 years old. Not only does this kill years of history and celebration at Auburn, but it kills a bit of history itself. Those oak trees lived through Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, countless weather events and hundreds of commencement ceremonies.
If undisturbed, oak trees can live upwards of 300 years. Unfortunately, due to one fanatic’s spiteful actions, chances are slim that the tradition-laden Auburn oaks will last more than a few months.