New Champs in Height and Breath

By Bronaugh, Whit | American Forests, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

New Champs in Height and Breath


Bronaugh, Whit, American Forests


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. TMs 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 2 5-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. …

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