Printer Friendly

Big changes for big trees.

We humans are fortunate in having relatively long lives Oh, sure, we may be outlasted by the tortoise, the quahog clam, and the Antarctic sponge, but we can clam a superior perspective on time over the vast majority of the Earth's 5-15 million plant and animal species. A day in the life of a single celled organism is their life. Most of our fellow beings, being insects, don't even know what a year is, We, however, can personally observe, and accumulate wisdom over, the passage of decades. We smile knowingly when a child says, "Are we there yet?" and we try to teach them the patience our long experience had taught us. of course, after the tenth "Are we there yet?" we become the child all over again, in need of the parental wisdom we thought we had.

Fortunately, we also gain wisdom from the lessons of recorded history, the scientific study of the past, and the cultural legacies of great minds. But such abstract lessons do not always have the power of experience. Who will best save for the winter, the newcomer from the tropics told to do so, or the survivor of many winters? in spite of the lessons from our historical culture, our lives and decisions seem to be dominated by our personal perspective on time, which rarely exceeds two generations before or after our own. Usually we focus on much shorter time spans, like election cycles, fiscal years, the work week, and the 15-minute break. This, we have discovered repeatedly, can be a problem when the natural world we depend on and cherish continues to operate on the long term plan.

One way to make the long term more tangible is to spend some of it with a big, old tree. Its hundreds or thousands of annual layers of wood are right there, just inches or feet from our touch, hidden by the girth that represents their sum. But we do not have to count the layers, or even see them, to appreciate that the being before us, simply by its existence, can teach us a thing or two about patience, endurance, the variable ticking of Mother Earth's many clocks, the consideration of nonhuman forms of life, and the freedom and virtue of thinking outside the box of human time.

AMERICAN FORESTS' Big Tree Program recognizes that such lessons can be learned from the relative ancients of all of America's tree species. Lessons from the 13-foot tall, skinner-than-a-fence post, but biggest-of-its-kind Geyer willow may be different, but no less valuable, than those of the biggest-tree-in-the-world giant sequoia. The National Register of Big Trees celebrates them all. But while the trees themselves live in cycles of tens to thousands of years, their status as national champions is re-evaluated every two years to keep you up to date on who the best time teachers are, here is a summary of big trees lost, found, and dethroned since 2008.


The Class of 2010 includes a total of 733 champs and co-champs, representing 637 species and varieties of native and naturalized trees in the continental United States. These are almost the exact same figures as for the Class of 2008 but in the interim, 175 new champions or co-champions were crowned, while 164 were dethroned.


The 15 biggest species in the country, from the 1321-point giant sequoia to the 659-point sugar pine, have the same champions and rankings as in 2008, except for the new Coast Douglas-fir in Washington with a total of 804 points. There are 18 other species that have champions with more than 500 points, and 3 of those are new additions to that lofty group. On the strength of its 12 1/2-foot diameter, a new 590-point champion water tupelo in Hampton County, Virginia beat out the old champ by 74 points and moved its species from 30th to 19th place in the Register. It is now the fifth largest broadleaf tree in the country.

In St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, the historic Seven Sisters Oak reclaimed the live oak title with a growth of 43 points. It is the only champion with a crown twice as wide as the tree is tall. You can go see the new 540-point eastern cottonwood champion at Alum Creek State Park just north of Columbus, Ohio. It is a well rounded monarch, with a 31-foot girth, 135-foot crown, and 136-foot height.

Another 16 new champions in 11 states have between 400 and 500 points. Michigan has four of them: white willow, black maple, bur oak, and weeping willow. With the impact of Dutch Elm Disease, which recently cut down the Herbie elm of Maine, the largest elm in New England, champion elms tend to have short reigns. There have been five new American elm champions in each of the last five registers, including this one with the crowning of a 416-point tree in Ross County, Ohio. Long may it reign!


You might suspect that most new champions are relatively obscure, hard to identify, or are of a species that never gets to be of a head turning size. But tell that to Frank Barker and Sally Chadwick who found a 414-point eastern white pine in Cheshire County, New Hampshire. Or Greg Zell and Rod Simmons, nominators of the new 401-point American basswood growing in Charles County, Maryland. Or Michigan big tree hunters Andrew and Noah Sawyer who found a 407-point weeping willow and a 312-point red mulberry in Berrien County, and a 379-point northern white-cedar in Ontonogon County. The success of certain big tree hunters shows us that luck is not everything when it comes to finding champion trees. Andrew Sawyer also located another 10 new champions for Michigan, including the familiar bur oak, witch-hazel, and poison-sumac. And let us once again recognize that indefatigable team of Byron Carmean and Gary Williamson, who added 19 champs from Virginia including the pussy willow, American hornbeam, winged elm, and the aforementioned water tupelo.

Other new champs in the 300-400 point range include such familiar trees as California black oak (392 points, Tuolumne County, California), southern magnolia (358 points, Sussex County, Virginia), balsam poplar (341 points, Cheshire County, New Hampshire), and black cherry (338 points, Tazewell County, Virginia). A total of 22 new champs scored in the 300's, 35 in the 200's, 43 in the 100's, and 53 scored below 100 points.


In the featherweight sapling division, five new champions weighed in with 30-something points: littleleaf leucaena (38 points, Pima County, Arizona), Gregg ash (37 points, Big Bend National Park, Texas), purple-osier willow (33 points, Monroe County, New York), Virginia stewartia (33 points, Chesapeake County, Virginia), and birchleaf cercocarpus (30 points, Coconino National Forest, Arizona). Jeff Overby gets recognition for finding the newest, smallest big tree, a yellow anise-tree in Marion County, Florida with a proud but paltry 29 points. It is five feet taller, a hair skinnier, and has a crown spread one third narrower than the current tiniest champion, a Geyer willow that stands 10 feet short on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.

In the competition among states, Florida has regained its traditional number one ranking with 99 champions, though that number reflects the large number of trees restricted to the sunshine state, rather than average tree size. Arizona dropped to number two with 91 champions, followed by Texas (77), California (73), Virginia (68), Michigan (33), Georgia (30), and Washington (30). Maryland, with 23 champs, continues to show that you don't have to be a big state to have a lot of big trees. Nine other states are in the teens, and 28 have a single digit number. Hawaii, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Rhode Island are still bereft of royalty, but with the discovery of a 188-point Virginia Pine in Sussex County, Delaware is back in the Register.

In any true contest where there are winners, there are also, unfortunately, losers. This year 31 former champions were knocked out by the 10-year rule. Like boxers that have to weigh in for each fight, big tree champions now have to be remeasured within 10 years or the crown becomes available to other contenders. This prevents trees from holding the title after they have fallen just because no one had bothered to remeasure them. On the other hand, the 10-year rule certainly has the unintended consequence of dethroning some true living champions for the same reason. Among others, old growth red maple, coast live oak, California red fir, and Pacific silver fir champions have been ousted for measurements predating the year 2000. Have these ex-champions actually fallen or have they just been neglected?


Most, dethroned champs simply lost, fair and square, by the discovery of a tree that was just a little bit bigger. But sometimes relatively undeserving trees get to hold the title a while, usually after a champion dies and there are no contenders on file with state big tree coordinators. The 2008 181-point champion water-elm of Williamsburg, Virginia was an easy knockout for the new 288-point champ in Gilchrist County, Florida (although it is still 25 points shy of the 2006 champ of New Bern, North Carolina). It is no surprise that the 2008 paper birch "champion" of Johnson, Kansas, with just 107 points, did not hold its crown long. The new champion in Hartford County, Connecticut is nearly twice as big in height and crown spread, and has a trunk three times thicker. The new Douglas-fir champion in Washington actually outstrips the former champ by several hundred cubic feet, and is at least 550 years old. The former champ, in the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park was dethroned after inspections showed that it had died of old age combined with health issues, including stem rot.

At least seven former champions have gone to that great forest in the sky, including a 435-point swamp chestnut oak in Big Oak State Park, Missouri; a 315-point eastern hemlock in Towns County, Georgia; a 829-point douglas-fir in Jedediah State Park, California; and a 69-point common pawpaw in Williamsburg, Virginia. Two impostor Fraser fir champions in Ohio were exposed as moderate-sized silver firs. And modern taxonomy caught up with the former champion holacantha, Texas pistache, and Biltmore, broadleaf, Columbia, and yellow hawthorns, which were disqualified because their species is no longer recognized as valid by botanists.

Every two years when the register is updated, some species are left without a champion. Others have thrones that have long been empty. This year we have the added effect of newly recognized species, including a number of oaks and hawthorns, that botanists have added to the list of native and naturalized trees of the continental U.S. This results in 221 species that currently have no champion, and are just waiting for you to go out and find one.

But even if you are not of the big tree hunting and measuring kind, you have everything to gain simply by going out and appreciating trees, big or small, old or young. They can all teach us a thing or two about living on Mother Earth.

Whit Bronaugh writes from Eugene, Oregon. To view the 2010 National Register, visit and click on Big Trees.
COPYRIGHT 2010 American Forests
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Brounaugh, Whit
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2010
Previous Article:Spring: a time of renewal: working collaboratively to reach the next level.
Next Article:MAPEI commits to plant 200,000 trees.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters