Jackie Sheridan, of Royal Oak, loves her old red oak tree and has gone to great lengths to save it.

Jackie Sheridan, of Royal Oak, loves her old red oak tree and has gone to great lengths to save it.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Royal Oak resident strives to save ancient red oak

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published April 24, 2019

 Jackie  Sheridan holds up her auger — which she used to treat her red oak — and her Shih Tzu-Maltese  mix, Charlie.

Jackie Sheridan holds up her auger — which she used to treat her red oak — and her Shih Tzu-Maltese mix, Charlie.

Photo provided by Jackie Sheridan

 The red oak in her Royal Oak backyard inspired Jackie Sheridan to paint her first watercolor of a bird — a nuthatch.

The red oak in her Royal Oak backyard inspired Jackie Sheridan to paint her first watercolor of a bird — a nuthatch.

Photo provided by Jackie Sheridan

ROYAL OAK — Royal Oak resident Jackie Sheridan and her husband, Roger Baran, have spent money, time and energy over the past four years trying to save the giant red oak in their backyard, which is in decline.

The couple has lived in their current home, which was built in 1917, for 35 years, and Sheridan estimates that the tree is 365 to 400 years old, based on research she has done online.

She said she first noticed that her tree looked different than the other large oak trees in the backyards of her neighbors on East LaSalle Avenue while she was walking her dog, Charlie. The tree’s expansive canopy did not appear as lush or as full as the others.

“It also had an infestation of caterpillars, and it was intimidating, because I could really see the difference,” she said. “For the past four years, my husband and I have been on a journey to save this tree and make it healthier.”

Sheridan and Baran worked with garden centers and scoured the web to identify the best techniques to rejuvenate their tree.

To date, Sheridan has drilled more than 40 holes into her yard as far out as the outermost branches with her 17-inch auger, filling them with a special nutrient-rich mix and aerating it. She and Baran also hired an arborist to do biannual deep root fertilization treatments.

She said the arborist thought the tree had been compromised, given the presence of holes created by bugs underneath the bark.

“He assured us it was in decline, but that every tree of this scope and size (is at risk),” she said. “It’s a beautiful tree, and they sustain a lot of life — squirrels and birds and nuthatches and woodpeckers.”

In her retirement, Sheridan said, she has taken up watercolors, and the red oak inspired her to paint her first bird, a nuthatch. Recently, she finished painting a leaf from the tree.

“We have just worked so hard to keep it, so this is the big year,” she said. “This spring is pretty important to tell if things are working.”

Her main concern is that her tree might be on DTE’s radar as potentially damaging to electrical lines. Two of the boughs are dead, and she said that she and her husband also have concerns about them injuring a person or damaging a structure.

“Any limb that is over a DTE wire is not considered ours anymore. It’s considered DTE’s, and they have rights to trimming and cutting limbs that are over the wire and within 10 feet of the wires, so our tree-trimming company could not touch them,” she said. “It’s sad thinking about the potential to lose the tree.”

Sheridan’s neighbor, Lisa Ortlieb, has lived in her home for approximately 32 years. She reached out to the Royal Oak Review about Sheridan’s attempts to save her tree.

“She absolutely loves her house and she’s an excellent gardner,” Ortlieb said. “These are just gigantic trees and just absolutely beautiful. I think people would like to know about her passion for her oak tree.”

She said Sheridan also paints on the bark that has fallen from the tree.

Ortlieb and Sheridan said they had heard neighborhood stories that a group of sister trees in the neighborhood originated from saplings presented to the Royal Oak forefathers by the king of England several hundred years ago.

However, Royal Oak Historical Society Museum Curator Muriel Versagi said that in the 1920s, George Dondero traveled to England and brought back acorns descended from the original oak tree in which the king of England, Charles II, hid when he was a boy.

“There was some king overthrowing the king who wanted to be the king of England,” Versagi said. “This boy of 12 and his protectors were running away.”

The Dondero family, she said, was one of the founding families of Royal Oak. George Dondero served as the first school board president and the first mayor of Royal Oak, and in 1935, he went to Washington, D.C., to serve as a congressman.

The acorns Dondero brought back to Royal Oak, she said, were planted at the Detroit Zoo and were later transplanted to Memorial Park, where they reside today.

She said the area that is now the city of Royal Oak was once a forested area containing woods, swamps, rivers and streams, and settlers began exploring the land in the early 1800s.

“It was the perfect setting for oak trees,” Versagi said. “There are many still, but not as many as there used to be. Many are really old.”

Call Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at (586) 218-5006