By Laurie Sheldon
In the Beginning
American Forests magazine has maintained a list of the biggest trees of each species in America since 1940. It began as the “American Big Trees Report,” was re-titled the “Social Register of Big Trees” in 1961, and in 1978 it became the “National Register of Big Trees” – a publication in which more than 750 champions are crowned each year. To see the most current edition, click here. The Big Tree Program is active throughout the U.S., and its message has been the same for over 70 years: regardless of size, all trees are champions of the environment. Its goal is to preserve and promote the iconic stature of our country’s living monarchs (its remarkable trees) and to educate people about the key role that trees and forests play in sustaining a healthy environment.
The Makings of a Champion
To be eligible for the National Register of Big Trees, a tree must be recognized as native or non-invasive naturalized in the United States. Hybrids and minor varieties are excluded. Based on sources including the USDA Plants Database and the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, the 870+ species and varieties of trees on this list have met eligibility requirements.
Florida has the most national champions of any state. Its largest is a Ficus citrifolia (shortleaf fig/wild banyan) in Monroe County which measures 444 inches in circumference, stands 48 feet tall, and carries a crown spread of 76 feet. In addition to contributing to the National Register, the Florida Forest Service keeps a state register, the Florida Champion Tree Register, which documents the largest trees of each species within the state.
Discovering a Winner
Take a look at the list of 100+ native tree species in Florida that don’t have designated champions. If you’ve seen one of these species and it
1) has an erect, woody main trunk with a circumference larger than 9.5 inches (about 3 inches across) at 4.5 feet above the average ground level (see the measurement diagrams at the foot of this article for details about where to measure if the specimen is leaning, on a slope, etc.),
2) is more than 13 feet tall, and
3) has a definite crown of branches or fronds
then I strongly encourage you to nominate it! The process involved is detailed in this pdf document. The online nomination form is available here, and a printable/mail in version can be downloaded here. Please note that if the tree is located on private property, and you plan on mailing in your nomination, you must also have the property owner fill out this form.
For Further Reading
An article about Mark Torok, a state forester who has measured and verified more than 220 Florida champions and 130 national contenders.
Requiem for the Senator, about the loss of that invaluable bald cypress.