The Lumpers VS the Splitters

American Forests, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

The Lumpers VS the Splitters


To paraphrase an old saying, Hell hath no fury like a Big Tree dethroned. That fury is swirling in Georgia, which has rallied behind the cause of the former national champion Darlington oak, removed from the list of eligible species in AMERICAN FORESTS' current National Register of Big Trees when it was deemed too similar to the laurel oak to be considered a separate species.

Roy Simkins, nominator of the former Wrens, Georgia, titleholder, is not pleased. "Would you kindly reconsider and reinstate the National Champion Quercus hemispherica that the State of Georgia and I are proud to have growing in our soil?" wrote Simkins to AMERICAN FORESTS. His request has the backing of several noted tree experts.

At 96 feet high with a 95-foot crown spread and a 234-foot circumference, the Darlington oak is indeed a lovely specimen. But according to AMERICAN FORESTS consulting dendrologist, Elbert L. Little, the tree isn't truly a separate species-it's a variation of Quercus laurifolia, the laurel oak.

Not so, insists a cadre of Georgia dendrologists. Those authorities include professor Michael Dirr of the University of Georgia and David Gianasi, head of the university's botany department who has done extensive DNA testing on both species. …

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