Magazine article American Forests

In a State of Superlatives; Big Tree Paradise Has an Address: Go West; Stop at the Ocean

Magazine article American Forests

In a State of Superlatives; Big Tree Paradise Has an Address: Go West; Stop at the Ocean

Article excerpt

Imagine, for a moment, a paradise for big tree lovers. It would need a diverse and unique silva with many trees found nowhere else in the world. These trees would live in myriad habitats from soggy coasts to the driest deserts, deep valleys to the shoulders of alpine peaks, backyards to the back of beyond. Some would stand alone like arboreal explorers in a wilderness of adverse conditions, others would crowd together in forests dense enough to affect gravity.

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Scattered throughout like precious gems would be trees of unmatched stature. And the crown jewels would include the biggest, tallest, and oldest trees on Mother Earth.

But you don't have to imagine this wonderland. You can buy a ticket to Big Tree Paradise and go there. Destination: California.

Compared to the rest of the country, California's national champs are like emergent trees in a tropical forest, standing crown and limb above all others. Here you'll find a tree that is both the world's biggest and the nation's oldest champ (giant sequoia), as well as the world's biggest pine tree (a sugar pine) and the country's tallest champion (coast redwood), biggest naturalized tree (bluegum eucalyptus), biggest native hardwood (California-laurel), and biggest oak (valley oak).

You'll also see the most champion conifers in any state (38), 15 of the 34 national champs scoring over 500 points, and two (giant sequoia and western juniper) of only three champions to hold their crowns since the National Register of Big Trees began in 1940. And if that's not enough: At 98, California has more national champion trees than any other state except Florida, which has 167.

But in big tree competitions, size is all that matters. So by that criterion, how do the Golden State and the Sunshine State compare? Even with 69 fewer champion trees, California's total point score is half again as much as Florida's. The average champion tree in California is 301 points, roughly equivalent to its national champion Coulter pine, which stands 141 feet tall and 4 feet thick in San Diego County.

In Florida, the average champ has 119 points and could be represented by the state's national champion scrub hickory, a mere 47 feet tall and 20 inches thick. So, who do you think is Number One?

Geography explains much of California's advantage. Its large size, great latitudinal range, southern border region, and variety of habitats all contribute to the diversity of about 150 species of trees. The evolutionary isolation imposed by the dispersal barriers of ocean, desert, and mountains has resulted in a high degree of exclusivity. One of the biodiversity hot spots of the world, California has nearly 5,000 species of plants, or one-quarter of all plants north of Mexico. A third of them, including about 30 species of trees, are found nowhere else. Another 50 trees are shared only with Mexico, Oregon, or Arizona.

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California has five of the country's 10 biggest champion trees: the General Sherman giant sequoia (biggest tree in the world; biggest champ by circumference, volume, and point total), coast redwood (tallest tree in the world and second biggest national champ), California-laurel (seventh biggest national champ, biggest native hardwood champ), sugar pine (biggest pine in the world, eight biggest national champ), and Monterey cypress (tenth biggest national champ). But California's reputation does not rest on this treasure of trees alone. Join with me now for a brief tour of Big Tree Paradise and you'll see how rich the trove is.

First stop, the Northern Coast, where nearly one-third (32) of California's champions grow, including the 1,291-point coast redwood, the 684-point California-laurel, and the 668-point Monterey cypress. This region has five of the 13 national champs that score over 600 points. The 759-point bluegum eucalyptus, near Petrolia, is the nation's biggest naturalized tree and its biggest hardwood champ. …

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