Oak replaces 126-year-old camphor in Sacramento

01/12/2013 12:00 AM

01/14/2013 8:50 AM

Sacramento welcomed a new neighbor Friday as workers carefully planted a red oak tree at 18th Street and Capitol Avenue – the old home of the historic camphor tree that was removed in August.

A neighborhood landmark, the 126-year-old camphor had been afflicted with a fungal disease called verticillium wilt.

But on Friday, the camphor's aroma seemed to linger in the vicinity as workers unloaded the new red oak from a forklift.

"We hope this lasts a hundred years," said Sacramento urban forest manager Joe Benassini, pointing to the scrawny oak tree. "It's going to be big."

The red oak was selected by the city and the Sacramento Tree Foundation, Benassini said, because it would be resistant to the disease that killed the camphor. The oak also will provide shade once it reaches maturity, he added.

Onlookers, however, remained nostalgic for the old camphor.

"It was a wonderful tree. I loved it," said Robert King, 77, who visited the tree every morning for 20 years on his way to the coffee shop next door.

King, a retired art teacher, called the tree "spiritual."

"The tree grew over the building, it was everywhere," he said.

Steps away, Rick Stevenson, 60, recounted the camphor's long history. His grandfather, George H.P. Lichthardt, planted the camphor at age 9 to honor the impending arrival of a baby sister. The family had lost several children before that, Stevenson said.

As the red oak settles into its new home, city workers will be keeping a close eye, swinging by regularly to water the tree. Benassini said it will take a few years before it reaches maturity.

Still, some will never forget the old camphor.

"It broke my heart to see it leave," King said.

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