Printer Friendly

A journey through champion trees.

For most of my childhood my address was "the house with the biggest tree on Cardinal Lane." That big black cherry tree, a remnant of the farm from which our little subdivision wets carved, dominated our front yard and arched protectively over my bedroom.



It defined my seasons, taught me biology, featured in my outdoor games, and conveyed the potential of tree growth, the relative permanence of big trees, and the feeling that there are bigger, older, and wiser things in thus world that we should heed. Perhaps it's no wonder that, when I became a nature photojournalist. I soon turned my camera toward big trees.

Near midnight on May 12, 1989, I pulled into a parking lot, walked down a short trail, and, for the first time, paid a visit to a national champion tree. The next morning, I returned and photographed my first national champion tree, ole General Sherman him/herself. Since then, I have had the honor and privilege of photographing 200 champion trees in 30 states, but the real rewards come from just spending time with them, appreciating them, and seeing the world from their perspective. I hope these images will give you a window to some of my experiences with big trees and inspire you to go out and have your own.



American elms have been associated with Daniel Boone, Buffalo Bill, William Penn, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Chief Logan, Kit Carson, and many others. This champion, called the Louis Vieux Elm. has also had its share of fame and glory. "OI' Looey" was a landmark along the Oregon Trail; is the sole tree in the country's smallest stale forest, which was created on its behalf; was featured in National Geographic: and was named for a Pottawatomie Indian leader.

Opposite Page Clockwise from Top Left


At the base of this sugar pine, you can walk into an old fire scar from either side and stand within the embrace of the biggest pine tree in the world. You might feel .some trepidation about the fact that well over 150 tons of wood is suspended above your head with most of the original support missing. But step outside the champion's "protection," and you risk a chicken Little moment if the squirrels are felling the two-foot-long cones.


This is the tree that, since 2004, remains un for given for the true crime of placing Clint Eastwood's former champion in the line of tire and picking it off as easily as a hunter picks off a bird on a tightrope, leaving this bluegum eucalyptus, as the Romans would say, invictus. It also, apparently, ate a fence.


When sizing up a tree, we usually only measure what we can see. Above ground, this champion velvet mesquite is 46 feet tall, but its taproot may go down three times that distance. This allows it to drink contentedly and keep its leaves during all but the most severe droughts that occur in its Sonoran Desert home in Arizona.


Growing next to a house in Santa Clara, California, this tree may be relatively unremarkable to a passerby used to the many types of showy, often exotic, ornamental trees common on American lawns. But a sharp botanical eye will see that, not only is it a native California redbud, but it's also the biggest of its kind.











Growing on the banks of an oxbow lake along the Rio Grande near San Benito, Texas, this champion montezuma baldcypress is an impressive tree with a seven-feet-thick trunk. But it has a lot of growing to do to catch up lo the world champion in Oaxaca, Mexico. That tree, called the Tule Cypress, has a diameter of nearly 31 feet!


Coastal redwood forests have the greatest biomass of any ecosystem in the world, but it's a sobering thought, if you are hiking through one, to realize that 95 percent of that biomass is hanging above your head. Particularly when you remember that redwood roots only go down about six feet. This champion, called the Del Norte Titan, has a volume exceeded only by 14 trees in the world, all giant sequoias.


Less than half of one percent of old-growth forests in the eastern United States have survived post-Columbian settlement, and much of what is left, while old, is stunted by shallow or nutrient-poor soils. Standing before this champion northern red oak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it is difficult to convince yourself that you are not looking at one of the giant conifers on the West Coast.


This former national bigleaf maple champion was also the third biggest broadleaf tree in the country. This champion grew by the side of the road in Jewel, Oregon, and was a delight to see in any season.


Western junipers rank as the fourth longest-lived tree species in the world, with the oldest specimen attaining 2,675 years. The bonsai-like champion shown here, called the Bennett Juniper after naturalist Clarence Bennett, is no spring chicken: it sprouted around 2,200 years ago, around the time of your 110-greats grandparents.



It weights more than three 747 airliners. is more than 2,200 years old, has dropped branches bigger than most trees east of its Sierra Nevada home, adds wood at the rate of a four-foot two-by-four every day, has seen 28,700 full moons, and has a volume 10 percent bigger than its closest competitor. Simply put, the General Sherman giant sequoia m Sequoia National Park, California, is the biggest tree on the planet.


Unless you are there in one of its infrequent downpours or the ephemeral spring, everything in the Arizona desert speaks of dryness. Yet the saguaro cacti, standing comically in all manner of anthropomorphic postures, are 90 percent water. This specimen, lowering in the Superstition Mountains, beat the millions-to-one odds against germinating, was only about 10 inches tall when it was 20 years old, and still grew to become a champion.


Acorn woodpeckers know how to save for future feasts. They drill holes in trees. like this champion valley oak in Round Valley, California, and use them as a larder for acorns, their preferred food. Similarly American Forests' Rig Tree Program is the larder for future feasts for the eyes and soul, like this mightiest of oaks.


When scientifically discovered in 1H50. there were only about 240 torrey pine trees in the world, all growing along a narrow strip of the southern California coast and in one tiny grove on San la Rosa Island. Although still endangered, they now number several thousand in the wild, and many tens of thousands more have been planted in lawns from San Diego, which surrounds most of the wild population in Torrey Pines State Reserve, to New Zealand.


This former champion Pacific madrono grew on an open knoll in Humboldt County. California, and was called the Council Madrone after the many councils between the coastal and interior Indian tribes that took place beneath its protective crown, Purchased in 1975 by the Save the Redwoods League and gifted to the California State Park .system, it was sundered by a windstorm in February 2000. yet its remains and root .sprouts are protected.





Story and photos by Whit Bronaugh
COPYRIGHT 2011 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion




Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bronaugh, Whit
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2011
Previous Article:A Place Apart: the Boundary Waters.
Next Article:History in the heartwood.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2015 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters