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Austin 2022 Tree of the Year Awards honors popular tree at St. Edward's University and others

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The votes are tallied and the winners are in. TreeFolks and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department announced the 2022 Tree of the Year Awards winners. The contest, which was last held in 2013, honors big and unique trees in the capital city.

Winners this year include a tree at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, one outside of the former Pease Elementary School, one outside the former Bryker Woods Elementary School, another on Enfield Road and the Sorin Oak on the St. Edward's University campus.

"It's a popularity contest. Anybody can nominate a tree. Any tree that is publicly accessible can be nominated," said Andrew Smiley, executive director of TreeFolks.

Each of the five trees won in one of five categories: Unique Tree, Story Tree, Schoolyard Tree, Small Tree and Large Tree. Popular vote determined the winner.

You can look at the gallery below to see all five winners.

  • Unique Tree: This Live Oak at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlfower Center is described as having a 'Bend and Snap' (Courtesy: TreeFolks)
  • Story Tree: The Pease Cupcake tree served as a gathering spot on the former elementary campus. (Courtesy: TreeFolks)
  • Large Tree: The Sorin Oak is one of the oldest trees at St. Edward's University. It sits atop a dormant volcano and is believed to be where Father Sorin planned the school's construction. (Courtesy: Eric Henrikson/KXAN News)
  • Schoolyard Tree: Located at the former Bryker Elementary, this tree has been on campus since 1939. (Courtesy: TreeFolks)
  • Small Tree: The winner of the Small Tree category can be found on Enfield Road and Lorrain Street. (Courtesy: TreeFolks)

Each of the winners will receive a plaque made out of a "tree cookie" — essentially a sliver of a tree cut out of a log.

Smiley said the original contest was judged by arborists and professional foresters but ceased when tracking all the data related to the contest became challenging.

Closer look: The Sorin Oak

Winning in the Big Tree category is the Sorin Oak on the campus at St. Edward's University.

"We did a tomography and resistor graph, and we found out that it is about 250 years old," said arborist and ground supervisor Roy Johnson.

"It's probably, to my guess, is the only one that actually sits on top of a dormant volcano," Johnson said about what makes the tree special. Its roots stretch back to the founding of the university. It is named after the school's founder, Father Sorin.

"Legend has it that Father Sorin sat under the tree and pontificated about founding a university here in Austin."

The tree is the only one of its species of live oak on the campus. Before the school was built, it was the only tree on the hill.

Winners of the 2022 Tree of the Year Awards were given a plaque made out of a "tree cookie" to recognize their achievement. (Eric Henrikson/KXAN News)
Winners of the 2022 Tree of the Year Awards were given a plaque made out of a "tree cookie" to recognize their achievement. (Eric Henrikson/KXAN News)

Johnson said Native Americans in the area were believed to have used the tree to find their way. The branches of the Sorin Oak stretch south and east. It used to have branches that stretched north and west as well.

The tree survived a fire that occurred at a nearby building, an F4 tornado that moved through the area in 1922 and the winter storm of 2021.

"I know a lot of the professors like to have their classes out here. Students like to study out here," Smiley said.

Ethan Tobias, an intern with the Office of Sustainability at St. Edward's, backed that up. He said students believe the tree has the best Wi-Fi on campus.

Building a tree community at St. Edward's and in Austin

For Smiley, the contest is all about building community.

"One thing that we have to remember is not just plant the tree and care for the tree, but really celebrate the tree too."

Many students and teachers gather beneath the Sorin Oak. It is believed to have the best Wi-Fi on campus. (Eric Henrikson/KXAN News)
Many students and teachers gather beneath the Sorin Oak. It is believed to have the best Wi-Fi on campus. (Eric Henrikson/KXAN News)

Tobias said the contest has helped draw attention to the school's sustainability programs. The campus uses modern watering systems, native plants and compost gathered from the school's three coffee shops to care for campus plants.

"Every single coffee ground that we use, so students, faculty, and staff use all of its being composted at our campus garden. Just another way to, we can take wastes that would have gone in a trash can and make sure it's getting to good use," Tobias said.


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