The public is invited to a formal farewell on Saturday, Feb. 8, before a decades-old Valley oak tree, known as the “Witness Tree,” is to be cut down.
The famous “Witness Tree” at Paramount Ranch, an oak featured in hundreds of films, weddings and special events, is yet another victim to the 2018 Woolsey Fire—heat from the flames permanently damaged the tree, preventing recovery.
According to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) Public Affairs Officer Ana Beatriz Cholo, staff members waited to see if the tree would resprout after the fire.
“Residents and a local arborist checked it out,” Beatriz Cholo said. “They knew that it wasn’t going to make it.”
SMMNRA plant ecologist and arborist John Tiszler said the heat from the fire damaged the tree’s cambium, what he described as the living tissue under the bark, where trees produce new wood and transport water and sugars.
Tiszler described the cambium as “the veins and the heart and everything else.”
He said similar trees in the area survived, but the Witness Tree was surrounded by buildings on three sides.
“The heat, flame impingement from burning buildings was so hot that it burned the cambium,” Tiszler said.
“Trees don’t heal,” Tiszler said. Instead, “they recover.” Usually, he said trees will lose all their leaves in a fire, but new leaves will regrow almost immediately after. That recovery never happened with the Witness Tree.
“[The Witness tree] had new flushes of leaves on one side,” Tiszler said. “But it just never initiated the recovery process.”
The tree is now beginning to shed its bark, and is showing signs of decay fungus, according to Tiszler.
“The tree is expected to be cut down in mid-February and the wood from the tree will be repurposed into benches, signs, hitching posts and other items. They will be displayed at the future Western Town, which is slated to begin construction within the next couple of years,” Beatriz Cholo wrote in a statement.
Paramount Ranch, located south of Agoura Hills in unincorporated Los Angeles County, is nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. The SMMNRA has invited the public to formally say goodbye to the tree on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 2–4 p.m.
Members of the public with memorable photos of the Witness Tree can bring their photos to the goodbye event where they will be publicly displayed.
“Experts say the gigantic tree, which has the diameter at breast height (dbh) of 100 inches, is possibly more than a century old,” Beatriz Cholo wrote. “Once the tree is cut down, the rings inside of it will be counted to determine its exact age.”
The SMMNRA is hosting a contest to guess the age of the tree. According to the SMMNRA’s Facebook page, the winner of the contest will receive “a small gift” from the Santa Monica Mountains Fund.