Magazine article American Forests

Sovereign Species

Magazine article American Forests

Sovereign Species

Article excerpt

From dethroned monarchs to brash upstarts, the 2002 National Register of Big Trees has more royal intrigue than a British history text. - Story & photos by Whit Bronaugh

Imagine yourself on a flat, featureless plain. The only objects in sight are two trees, 180 degrees apart. One is slightly larger, but they appear otherwise identical. Which tree do you go to first?

Most people, of course, would choose the bigger one because it could offer a wealth of 11 more's": more shade, more fruit or nuts, more dead wood for firewood, more shelter, more solace, more inspiration, or simply a higher vantage point. But if you read American Forests or belong to AMERICAN FORESTS, chances are you'd head for the bigger one so you could measure it. And if you're like the Big Tree hunters who contribute so much to AMERICAN FORESTS' National Register of Big Trees, you'd measure both to be sure which was the biggest.

Every two years at AMERICAN FORESTS we perform a similar survey to come up with a list of the biggest trees in the country. Since the new millennium we've instated 118 new national champion trees and watched 138 existing champs lose their crowns, literally and/or figuratively. For 2002 that leaves us with 886 champions and co-champions representing 730 species.

Doing the numbers by state, Florida remains way ahead of all others with 169 champions, followed by California (97), Texas (69), Arizona (70), and Virginia (56). The surprise of 2002 was Georgia, which had the most new champions (15), followed by California (14), Arizona (12), Tennessee (11), and Florida (10). After factoring in dethroned champs, Georgia still did the best with a net gain of eight, while Ohio's list increased by six and Oregon's by four.

This year Massachusetts joined the unfortunate club of states without champs (other members: Delaware, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) when a 510-point northern red oak in Monroe County, New York, bested Massachusetts' only national champion by 94 points.

But all those states can draw hope from former club member Nebraska, which returned to the Register with the discovery of what has turned out to be the country's biggest-known dwarf chinkapin oak, in Richardson County, and a cochampion eastern cottonwood in Seward. The cottonwood's 37-foot girth is exceeded by that of only two native hardwood champs (California-laurel and Fremont cottonwood).

The 16 biggest additions to the Register are all hardwoods: a sycamore, a cottonwood, an elm, 12 oaks, and an introduced eucalyptus. Twelve of those 16 are found in the East, as is the biggest new conifer, a 167-foot-tall loblolly pine in Congaree Swamp National Monument, South Carolina. This towering loblolly pine is now the tallest champion tree east of Idaho.

For pure gee-whizedness, the biggest new champ is a massive 759-point bluegum eucalyptus from Petrolia, California (see Clippings, Summer 2001), which resoundingly dethroned the 629-point previous champ, owned by Clint Eastwood.

The new champ's circumference alone gives it more points (586) than all but the biggest 14 national champion trees. Add in a 141-foot height and a 126-foot crown spread, and the Petrolia bluegum is dwarfed only by the champion giant sequoia, coast redwood, western redcedar, Sitka spruce, and coast Douglas-fir. That makes the tree, nominated by Loren Salladay and Robert Bush, the biggest hardwood on the Big Tree list. As for the overthrow of Mr. Eastwood's tree, we can only hope that the rookie tree that committed this true crime for absolute power does not go unforgiven.

After the 553-point eastern cottonwood that helped put Nebraska on the Big Tree map, the third largest new champion is a sycamore that hails from Montgomery County, Kentucky. As with most wild sycamores, it grows on a creek bank and has become hollow with age. In fact, it's a shell of its former self

The trunk has an impressive diameter of nearly 12 feet, but the "walls" are less than a foot thick. …

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