My aunt introduced me to a program years ago called the Georgia Champion Tree Program, which I have found to be tons of fun for a plant person like myself.
The Georgia Champion Tree Program is overseen by the Georgia Forestry Commission and documents the largest known trees of a particular species in the state.
As my knowledge of plants became more involved, I started looking for larger and larger trees everywhere I went. After a friend of mine showed me some pictures he took of the enormous Southern live oak called the Angel Oak on Johns Island, S.C., I was hooked. The Angel Oak is 28 feet in circumference and at its longest spread is 187 feet. The shade it produces covers 17,200 square feet. What an amazing specimen.
So how does the Georgia Champion Tree Program work?
To be eligible for the Georgia Champion Tree Program, a species must be recognized as native or naturalized in the continental United States. Any naturalized tree species considered invasive according to the Georgia Invasive Species Task Force will not be considered. Some familiar trees that are on the invasive list that do not qualify are chinaberry, mimosa, sawtooth oak, Bradford pear and rose of Sharon. There is a complete list of nonqualifying trees on the gainvasives.org website. Once the species itself qualifies, the tree must have an erect woody perennial stem or trunk and at least 9.5 inches in circumference measured 4.5 feet from the ground with a definitely formed crown of foliage and be at least 13 feet in total height.
If you think you have an exceptionally large tree and want to compare it to the Champion List, there is a measurement formula based on the circumference at 4.5 feet off the ground, the tree’s height and the average of the crown spread. Add the trunk circumference in inches to the height in feet plus .25 of the average crown spread in feet to get a tree’s total points.
If the points are within 5 percent of the current champion, the tree will be a co-champion. If it is above 5 percent, your tree is the champion. You can nominate a tree by contacting the Georgia Forestry Commission and they will send someone out to do an official measurement.
Georgia’s highest scoring tree is also our state tree, which is the live oak. This monster specimen is located in Waycross and scored 536 with a circumference of 420 inches, 77 feet in height and 155 feet in spread. Columbia County has the largest longleaf pine in the state located on Fort Gordon while Richmond County has three state champions including the national champion Morus rubra or Red Mulberry.
The national champion tree program is called the American Forests National Big Tree Program and is sponsored by a conservation organization called American Forests. Unlike Georgia, which accepts nonnative trees into its program, American Forests only accepts trees native to the United States. This national program has more than 700 registered trees and Georgia is home to 20 of these.
The West Coast dominates the list of the largest trees in the U.S. with California having the largest tree in the world. This awesome Giant Sequoia is located in Sequoia National Park and nicknamed General Sherman.
Standing 275 feet tall and 103 feet around, this 2,500-year-old mammoth had a branch that fell off in 1978 that was 140 feet long and greater than 6 feet in diameter. That branch alone is larger than any tree east of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains.
Get out and have some fun looking at large trees. Take a quick measurement of the circumference and see how it stacks up to the biggest in the state. You never know until you check.
Reach Campbell Vaughn, the agriculture and natural resources cooperative extension agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing email@example.com.