Live legacy: Magnolia man raises ‘courthouse oaks’

Joe Cornacchione looks over young trees taken from acorn sprouts of courthouse live oak.

A few years ago, Joe and Janellyn Cornacchione of Magnolia were out for a walk when they passed the big live oak tree growing at the southwest corner of the Pike County courthouse.

“They had hundreds of acorns that were starting to sprout,” Joe remembers. “I had never seen that before and I haven’t seen it since.”

The acorns clogged the curbside gutter beside the sprawling tree, which Janellyn calls the “Courthouse Oak.”

“Its huge acorns were on the ground and Joe said, ‘Look. They are splitting open a little. I wonder if I put them in pots would they root,’ ” Janellyn said.

He did, and they did. Cornacchione now has around 20 saplings growing in pots behind his workshop near the railroad track.

He lost two, gave a few away, and planted one at Janellyn’s property in Summit. He’s planning to set out more.

Several younger live oaks grow on the front lawn of the courthouse. The one on the corner is the biggest. A stone marker under the tree reads, “Oct. 7, 1967, 20th anniversary of fire protection of Pike County.”

Cornacchione’s saplings now range from a few inches to a few feet tall.

“These trees are expensive when you go to buy them,” he said.

“I wish I had gotten more, I’ve had people wanting to buy them.”

He noted the leaves have serrated edges that will smooth out as the trees grow.

“When they first sprout up, they look kind of like a holly,” he said.

He found it odd that so many acorns were sending up little shoots when he first saw them.

“That year I think it was a combination of the moisture, heat, and them not cleaning the gutters out,” he said.

The courthouse oaks are fitting for Magnolia, which was one of Mississippi’s first members in the Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA program.

“Joe did that for Magnolia,” Janellyn said. “I admire him. He really loves planting trees, even though he knows he won’t see the big ones.”

Cornacchione is a town alderman and involved in town beautification efforts, including leading Boy Scouts to plant trees at Reid Park on Highway 51 South.

“I worked on a Christmas tree farm in Maryland every summer,” he recalled.

He even started his own Christmas tree farm, but it turned into a forest when he became a teacher. He now works at Southwest Mississippi Community College.

When planting the young live oaks, Cornacchione said it’s important to protect their trunks from workers using weed-cutters and from deer, which rub their antlers on them this time of year. He uses wire cages or black plastic collars around the trunks.

He also has perforated rubber bladders that wrap around the trunks and seep water out to the roots for hours.

“I’m going to put as many as I could down at the park, Reid Park,” he said.

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