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In Search of Champions

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

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On the opposite side of the state, Kansas City's Swope Park holds five champions: blackhaw, rock elm, downy hawthorn, dwarf chinkapin oak and peachleaf willow. The biggest blue ash is found in Sturgeon City Park. Montauk State Park has the largest butternut, and the champion witch-hazel is found near Johnson's Shut-Ins.A good number of Missouri's champion trees are found in cemeteries, possibly because once the trees are planted, they are cared for and are seldom disturbed. Lorimier Cemetery in Cape Girardeau, one of the oldest cemeteries in the area, has two champion trees: Osage-orange and sugarberry. Only a few miles to the west is McKendree Cemetery, where the champion black hickory and winged elm are found. Other cemeteries with big trees include:

  • Robinson Cemetery (Marion County) - catalpa
  • Pleasant Valley (Scott County) - green hawthorn
  • Pleasant Site (Carter County) - scarlet oak
  • Ekey (Franklin County) - swamp white oak.

Fourteen champion trees are found on lands managed by the Conservation Department. As you might imagine, the conservation areas in the Bootheel have the most champion trees. A pair of co-champion water hickories are growing on Coon Island Conservation Area, in Butler County, along with biggest river birch, Nuttall oak and planertree. Nearby, at Allred Lake Natural Area, are the champion buttonbush, cedar elm and water tupelo.

Several other conservation areas are home to big trees, including:

  • Holly Ridge C.A. (Stoddard County) - hazel alder
  • Caney Mountain C.A. (Ozark County) - blackgum
  • Weldon Springs C.A. (St. Charles County) - roughleaf dogwood
  • Woods C.A. (Phelps County) - red maple
  • Hemenway C.A. (Ripley County) - overcup oak
  • Eck C.A. (Texas County) - shortleaf pine

Champion trees are not marked on conservation areas, so get directions and a map from the area manager.

How to Measure a Champion Tree

Circumference is measured at 4.5 feet above the ground. If a growth or branch is located at this point, measure below it where the circumference is least. If the tree forks below 4.5 feet, measure the largest fork at 4.5 feet.

To measure the circumference, locate a point 4.5 feet above the ground on the trunk and place the zero end of the tape there. Wrap the tape tightly around the trunk, without sagging, so that it exactly meets the zero end of the tape. Read the circumference in feet and inches.

Height is the distance between the base and topmost branch of the tree. Tree height may be measured using instruments such as an Abney level, clinometer or transit. A simple but accurate method works in the following manner. Make a target of a known height (5 feet works well when measuring tall trees). You will also need a ruler or yardstick. Place the target against the tree, but make sure it is visible as you walk back to measure. Be sure the target is vertical. Holding the ruler vertically, back up from the tree until the five-foot target exactly fills one inch on the ruler. Without moving the ruler, sight from the base to the top of the tree. Note the number of inches on the ruler that is filled by the tree. Each inch equals five feet. If the tree occupied 18 inches on the ruler, then the tree is 90 feet tall (18 x 5). Take measurements from several points around the tree and average to get the most accurate reading.

Crown spread can be measured by setting a stake or flag directly under the outside edge of the crown farthest from the trunk. Set another directly opposite it at the outer edge of the crown on a line passing through the center of the tree. Next, set stakes marking the shortest diameter of the crown passing through the center of the tree. Measure both diameters to the nearest foot with a tape measure. Add the two measurements together and divide the sum by two to obtain the average crown spread.

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