The Power of School Spirit? Poisoned Trees at Auburn University Now Showing New Life

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Mike Haskey / Columbus Ledger-Enquirer / Getty Images

Workers sprays the leaves of one of the two oak trees at Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Alabama, with an anti-transpirant spray in an effort to seal the leaves to prevent the loss of moisture from the leaves.

Long live the trees. Originally thought beyond help, the poisoned oak trees at Auburn University, in a popular celebration ground known as Toomer’s Corner, have hope. And a bit of life to go with it.

After a crazed Alabama fan (he took this rivalry prank a touch too far, don’t you think?) dumped powerful herbicide all around the pair of old oak trees at the entrance to Auburn’s campus in January, 62-year-old Harvey Updyke Jr. called into a sports talk radio station using a pseudonym and bragged about what he did. It didn’t take long to track him down for an arrest, but saving the trees that get “rolled” with toilet paper after every Auburn football win takes a tad longer.

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Initially, experts believed the amount of high-level toxins dumped into the soil would overpower the trees, but the thought the trees may get saved grew this week, as the now-tender trees fight through rapid cycles of new life and then shedding of poisoned leaves.

In February, crews excavated poisoned dirt around the trees’ roots, a critical first step in saving the possibly 130-year-old twins. Gary Keever, Auburn University’s horticulturist, tells the Associated Press the trees aren’t out of the woods yet, but the situation looks better than it once did and the trees may even be ready to roll in the fall. And since Auburn won last year’s National Championship, fans expect plenty of opportunities to celebrate at Toomer’s Corner. (The university may set-up a Plan B for the celebration if the trees can’t handle the crush of fans and TP.)

Amidst tough summer conditions, the trees get water every other day as bare limbs and weak, discolored leaves show obvious wear. To help protect them from further damage, a fence with signs surround the trees that read “PLEASE DO NOT ROLL TREES” and the leaves, still laced with herbicide, get removed from the ground immediately to limit spreading the contamination.

The trees now run through quick cycles of sprouting and shedding leaves, trying to self-medicate itself from the poison.

Even if the trees live, rolling them this fall might be too much for their delicate state, as workers generally use high-pressure hoses to clear off the excess toilet paper. And the idea of handpicking the toilet paper off the trees just seems a bit far-fetched now doesn’t it? But, of course, you would think that poisoning a tree because of your allegiance to a football team was a bit over the top too. So, who knows what will happen at Toomer’s Corner this fall? But no matter what, expect the outcome to matter supremely to Auburn fans.

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Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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