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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

The Kaive Oak

 In a meadow in the parish of Sēme, municipality of Tukums, Latvia, some 500 m from Kaive Manor, stands the Kaive Oak (Kaives ozols), a Quercus robur and the tree with the widest trunk for an oak in all the Baltic States. Perhaps one should say it squats rather than stands: it has a girth of 10.4 m at 1.3 m (i.e. almost 3.5 m across), a crown projection of 250 m², with branches spanning out up to 13.7 m. Yet it reaches only 18 m high, in large part due to a lightning strike in the 1920s that topped its crown. It also suffered the loss of many of its limbs in 1990. Yet it grows still: in 1975 its girth was 9.35 m, and since 2001 it has increased from 10.18 m to 10.54 m, according to the ”Monumental trees” website.

Kaive oak
The Kaive Oak in spring, May 2001 -  J.Sedols, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

Though some sources claim it is between 800 and 1,000 years old, the Latvian researcher Guntis Eniņš proposed that Kaive Oak is almost 400 years old, based on the size and average growth rate of the trunk.

In 1920, as a consequence of Latvian land reform, Kaive Manor was divided into 32 farms. The land with the Kaive Oak became the property of J. Stroman, who called his farm Senči (“Ancestors”). The first press publication about this oak was in the magazine Nedēļa (“Week”) on October 30, 1924:

"A giant oak, called Senči Oak, is located in Kaive Manor of Sēme Parish, on the new farm of J. Stroman, 13 km from Tukums, in a mountainous area. Large separate oaks scattered around Senči indicate that there was an oak forest and, probably, an ancient sacrifice site. The oak has a circumference of 8.5 m. it has an empty hole on one side, but it continues to grow and is totally covered in foliage. According to local legend, there was once a monastery in the nearby Kaive Manor, which was destroyed during the Polish–Swedish War (1600–1629). At that time, three barrels of gold were stored under the oak roots. Due to these stories, we have recently seen "searchers" around the roots of the oak tree, but the roots have grown solid like a cast iron cover."

Kaives ozols
With summer foliage, August 2010 - Image: Manshtein (CC BY 3.0)

Eniņš, however, rejects the possibility that such a large oak could have grown in the forest and supports the hypothesis that the owner's fields could have been an "ancient sacrificial site".

Today it is propped up with poles and wooden boards have been fastened to the tree so that water doesn’t seep into the trunk and cause it to rot. Newlyweds often visit the oak to ask for its blessing and leave ribbons and Lielvārde belts, a traditional Latvian woven sash, hanging from its boughs.

Kaive oak 19702
The Kaive Oak in the 1970s - Image: G. Eniņš, source: Latvian Nature Heritage Fund

In 2005, the tree was featured on a postage stamp as part of a series on natural monuments in Latvia.

Kaive oak stamp
The stamp bears the title KAIVE DIŽOZOLS ("The big oak at Kaive"). Its value was 15 Latvian santims (cents of a lat, Latvia's currency prior to adopting the euro in 2014)

More photos of this remarkable oak can be viewed on the “Monumental trees” website, here.

Leafing out
Leafing out in spring, May 2020 © Ikars Kublins www.photoplaces.eu


Further reading

Kaives Senču ozols. redzet.eu https://www.redzet.eu/en/travel/sights/stone-great-trees/kaive-oak. Accessed June 15, 2022.