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.
The 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 http://go.usa.gov/UnN to get details on how to measure trees, then get outdoors and find your very own champion tree.