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A Champion In Your Own Backyard

Feb 28, 2012

Americans saw several changes in the world in 1940. Depression relief was in our sights, and impending war was at our doorsteps. Though the world seemed a dark place, 1940 was still a big year in America. It was the birth year of some of the biggest names in Hollywood including Al Pacino, Chuck Norris, John Lennon and Tom Brokaw. CBS demonstrated color television, and the first Bugs Bunny cartoon was featured. It was also in this year that Joseph Sterns wrote an article in the American Forests magazine titled “Let’s Find and Save the Biggest Trees.” This article helped to change America’s perspective on its vastly decreasing forest.

Joseph Sterns was concerned about the survival of the forests’ most majestic and massive trees. In the article he proposed “that a few of our biggest specimens of each tree species should be singled out, marked, plotted on timber maps and preserved.” It was with this idea that the National Register of Big Trees was launched.

Missouri joined in the trend of finding and saving big trees in 1971 when the ­­water locust was the first champion to be recorded in Missouri. The trend of tree hunting picked up in 1976 when nominations increased considerably. The Missouri State Champion Trees program has taken off with more than 111 champion tree species now listed; and of those, five are currently nationally ranked.

Measuring a treeThe trees are scored on a point system and are awarded points for height, diameter and the spread of the crown. The largest tree in Missouri is an eastern cottonwood, measuring 78 feet in height with a circumference of 28 feet, 4 inches. The cottonwood scored a total of 458 points, 82 points shy of the national champion. The title of tallest tree is shared by a pumpkin ash, which can be found in the Big Oak Tree State Park, and the Shumard oak that was discovered on private property in Cape Girardeau. Both these majestic trees stand 150 feet tall. Though some of the trees are found on private property and are not accessible for public viewing, there are still several public lands throughout the state in which the champions can be visited. For example, Coon Island Conservation Area in Butler County is the home of the plane tree and the water hickory champions. 

New nominations are always welcome. Check out the Missouri State Champion Trees page at to get details on how to measure trees, then get outdoors and find your very own champion tree.


Wow great article!! Thanks! Really

Wow - article i agree with 100%!!!

Not all that much height for largest tree in Missouri.

Anonymous- I cannot tell from your description what type of animal is damaging your tree. If you have pictures of the damage you can send them to our Ombudsman, and he will be glad to help you determine the cause of the damage and may offer suggestions on how to save the tree. Email the Ombudsman at I wish you the best of luck with your oak tree.

I was trying to find out what is happening to an oak tree in our yard. It has about 2 feet of bark missing towards the bottom of the tree with some holes in the tree where the bark is missing. I am wondering if you could tell me what animal is taking the bark off and what we can do to try and save the tree. Thanks.

Trees are a natural filter of CO2, and should be kept growing all over the world to preserve our ecology. I am so saddened by the removal of trees to enlarge cultivated fields. It is my understanding that trees help prevent soil erosion, and provide shelter for wildlife. Trees weakened by disease, and storm damage are, of course, a threat to our life and homes but when properly trimmed should remain for many more years. Thank you for all you do to protect our forests, and trees.

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