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New champs in height and breath: General Sherman gets smaller, mega-trees switch places, people are one with trees. Read on for the latest from the world of really big trees.

You are a big tree. Well, part of you is anyway. No, really. This is not some flaky New Age crystal thing. This is science. Allow me to demonstrate.

First, take a breath. It doesn't have to be particularly deep or meaningful, and you can do it with or without meditation. You can think about trees, dessert, petunias, or nothing at all. Doesn't matter. Just breathe.

Don't be alarmed, but something on the order of oh, about 10 sextillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) air molecules just entered your lungs. From that and a few other educated guesses mathematicians have calculated that there is a 98 percent chance that your one breath contains about 5 molecules from the last breath of Julius Caesar. And the last breath of Leonardo da Vinci. And of Shakespeare.

Now, here comes the tree part. The world's biggest tree, the General Sherman giant sequoia, adds about 40 cubic feet of wood to itself every year. Wood cells grow at a rate that produces 4 million or 5 million oxygen molecules per second. By my back-of-the-envelope calculation, that means General Sherman produces about 75 sextillion molecules of oxygen annually. So, along with 5 molecules from Julius Caesar's last breath, you also breathed in about 15 oxygen molecules produced by General Sherman last year. Congratulations! You are part national champion giant sequoia.

And you are also part champion black walnut, part champion sycamore, and part champion bristlecone pine. Some fraction of your life, however small, owes its existence to the oxygen produced by each champion tree in the 2006 National Register of Big Trees, from the 1,321-point giant sequoia in the Sierra Nevadas of California to the 25-point corkwood of Waccasassa Bay. Florida. But there have been some changes in the roster. Since you have this new-found connection to champion trees, you might want to pay attention.


AMERICAN FORESTS now recognizes 870 champs and co-champs representing 826 species and varieties of native and naturalized trees in the continental United States. The last two years have seen the crowning of 119 new champions, not quite replacing the 130 that lost their royal status.

In the megatree category (more than 650 points) the 11 member species stayed the same, but a few switched rank and there is one new co-champion. The biggest Monterey cypress has grown to 683 points, taking the No. 9 rank from a fellow Californian, the California-laurel.

The remeasured common baldcypress of Cat Island, Louisiana, now at 762 points, nudged 3 points ahead of the bluegum eucalyptus of Petrolia, California, to take the No. 6 position. Challenging them both is the biggest new titleholder, a 758-point common baldcypress (see pg. 38) in Holmes County, Mississippi. This tree, which because it is within 5 points of the Cat Island tree becomes the species co-champ, has an amazing girth of 55 feet! Thirty people, shoulder to shoulder, could lean against it. Only the champion giant sequoia, coast redwood, western redcedar, and Sitka spruce have a larger circumference.

Last January, a storm broke a 2-foot diameter limb, the second largest, off the General Sherman giant sequoia. Not to worry, the champion of champions has lost bigger limbs before, including one in 1978 that was more than 6 feet in diameter and 140 feet long. It is unlikely that any tree will catch up to General Sherman, but the 1,290-point Lost Monarch champion coast redwood, discovered in 1998 in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, is only 31 points behind on AMERICAN FORESTS' scale.

General Sherman's top is dead, so the lost limb would affect the champ's score only in crown spread measurement. And since only one-quarter of General Sherman's 107-foot crown spread is used in AMERICAN FORESTS' formula, its number one position is secure. However, the northwestern corner of California, where the Lost Monarch grows, provides more rain and growing days than the Sierra Nevadas, so stay tuned for a megatree rivalry.


The second and third biggest new champions are also conifers: a 486-point Engelmann spruce near Loman, Idaho, and a 485-point Jeffrey pine in Yosemite National Park. They are also the tallest new champions, each topping 180 feet. Big tree hunters Byron Carmean and Gary Williamson, who have nominated trees since 1986, found the biggest new broadleaf champs, a pair of water tupelos in Southampton County, Virginia, more than 10 feet thick. They also found a new co-champion American elm, 421 points, in Greensville County, Virginia, and the new biggest black ash and biggest green hawthorn.

Other additions this year to the list of over-400 pointers are an Arizona sycamore located in Coconino National Forest, Arizona; a Shumard oak in Anna, Illinois; the reinstated black oak of East Granby, Connecticut; and an alligator juniper in Prescott National Forest, Arizona.

Fifteen new champs scored in the 300s, 26 in the 200s, 33 in the 100s, and 32 below 100 points. I am always amazed at the new recordholders for familiar trees: a new 376-point American chestnut in Clarkston, Washington; a 348-point scarlet oak with an incredible 179-foot crown spread in Middlesboro, Kentucky; a 316-point black cherry in West Portsmouth, Ohio; a 301-point shagbark hickory in Cedartown, Georgia; a 222-point common apple in Burke's Garden, Virginia; and a 148-point eastern redbud in Wayne, Michigan.


Nominator Jimmy Mock found the three smallest new champs: 32- and 31-point shrub althea hibiscus and a 30-point pinckneya, all in Georgia. With a 10-inch girth, the pinckneya just makes the 3-inch-diameter requirement to be a tree but soars 5 feet above the 13-foot height minimum.

The top seven states all retain their rankings: Florida still far ahead with 160 champs followed by California (101), Arizona (82), Texas (78), Virginia (54), Michigan (48), and Washington (39). The lucky folks of these states probably have a few more big tree molecules in them than the rest of us. Georgia, with 37 champs, moved ahead of Oregon (36) and Tennessee (31) to the No. 8 position. Arizona continues to be the most active big tree hunting state (see Earthkeeper, pg. 47 of magazine) with 21 new champs to compensate for an equal number of dethroned trees. California, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida had between 10 and 12 new champs each.

A different set of states shines when considering those with the greatest net gain in number of nationally recognized big trees. Georgia, helped by Jimmy Mock's six nominations, had a net gain of eight champions, followed by Ohio (5), South Carolina (4), and Kentucky (3).

Arkansas lost its only champion, a 124-point Ozark chinkapin in Clark County, to wind, and Kansas lost its sole champ, an eastern redbud in Topeka, due to mismeasurement. They join the hopeful states of Delaware, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming who must, for now, be satisfied with breathing a few out-of-state champion molecules every now and then. Meanwhile, Rhode Island, Iowa, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey can each celebrate their one champion for at least another two years.

In the last two years 56 champions were knocked out by bigger challengers. Among them were four trees that easily topped 400 points: a 455-point water tupelo in Southampton County, Virginia; a 435-point Arizona sycamore in Coconino National Forest, Arizona; a 430-point Shumard oak in Powell County, Kentucky; and a 428-point Engelmann spruce in Olympic National Park, Washington.

Big trees have an aura of immortality because they often live so much longer than we do. But the time for them to stop making oxygen for us eventually comes as it did for 48 monarchs in the last two years. The most notable losses were a 444-point overcup oak in Bertie County, North Carolina; and a 357- point white poplar in Charlevoix, Michigan. Two other champions, a white mulberry in Missouri and a wildgoose plum in Illinois, retired due to injuries and consequent loss of points.


Former Nuttall oak champs, American mountain-ash, dotted and green hawthorns, Canada plum, Kenai birch, and smooth dogwood have been mysteriously listed as 'whereabouts unknown.' Another 15 trees were stripped of their title because they were misidentified (black ash, red buckeye, seaside alder, Fraser fir, Japanese privet, Bonpland willow, black oak, turkey oak), mismeasured (longbeak eucalyptus, eastern redbud, and Utah serviceberry), or too small to be a tree (evergreen sumac, cinnamon clethra, yellow anise-tree, and jumping-bean sapium).

That's the news from the world of big trees. Now let out that breath. Someday soon, the biggest trees in America will get a whiff and use your carbon dioxide to get even bigger. And if you can't find a worthy tree to nominate, and still want to contribute, just keep breathing. You might even put a contender over the top for 2008.

Bronaugh's Wildlife of North America: A Naturalist's Lifelist is due out this fall.

--Story and photos by Whit Bronaugh


Winners are determined not just by how well they play the game, but by how the game is played. Attention all big tree hunters: The rules are about to change. For greater detail, go to the National Register of Big Trees on AMERICAN FORESTS' website (, but here are the most important changes.

1. The 10-Year Rule

Starting with the 2008 Register, champions must be measured within 10 years of the current Register to maintain their champion status. This means that any champion last measured before 1998 will be dethroned unless it is remeasured before the 2008 Register. Starting in 2010, only two years of champions (88 for 2010) will be eliminated if they aren't remeasured, but expect big changes in 2008 because there are 385 champions and co-champions that were last measured between 1965 and 1998. The Big Tree Program uses both boxing terms (contender, challenger, champion, title) and royalty terms (dethroned, crowned) to convey number one status on nationally recognized Big Trees. Now the 10-Year Rule says Big Trees are less like kings, who rule for life, and more like boxers, who must periodically accept challenges or lose their title by default. This rule will eliminate situations like the California sycamore that was nominated in 1940, the first year of the Register, wiped out by a flood in 1969, but not dethroned until 1992 when the news finally reached AMERICAN FORESTS.

2. Circumference of Forked Trees

AMERICAN FORESTS will return to measuring the smallest circumference below a fork that is at or below 4 1/2 feet. This recognizes that a tree's true circumference is measured on its trunk, not a limb. But first, nominators must determine if the tree is, and always was, one tree or if it is actually the result of two or more trunks that began as separate sprouts and grew into each other. In multi-stemmed trees there is often a seam indicating where two trunks grew together. You should also suspect this condition when the axes of the main trunks do not appear to meet above ground.

3, Crown Spread Measurement

Formerly, this was done by averaging the widest and narrowest crown spread diameters. From now on, forget the narrowest measurement and replace it with one taken at right angles to the widest measurement.
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Article Details
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Author:Bronaugh, Whit
Publication:American Forests
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
Previous Article:Washington outlook.
Next Article:Championing changes in the forest.

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