MDC awards new state champion black hickory tree in St. Louis area

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St. Louis, Mo. — As autumn's hidden colors of yellow, red, orange, and purple begin to emerge, autumn is the perfect time to turn our attention to trees. The State Champion Tree Program administered by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) recognizes Missouri's largest native trees by species.

MDC has recently added another tree in the St. Louis area to that distinguished list: a black hickory on private land in Jefferson County. The tree is 78 inches in circumference at 4.5 feet off the ground, 55 feet tall and has a crown of 35 feet wide.

"It's growing on a dry hilltop, which is a favorite location for black hickory trees to grow," said MDC Resource Forester Jason Villwock.

According to Villwock, the tree has some historic significance too.

"The tree has been around since at least the late 1800s and was once used as a hitching post for horses," he said.

The number of state champion trees in the St. Louis area is now up to 25 — approximately one out of five of the total state champion trees found in all of Missouri.

Missouri's champion trees are selected based on a formula which gives the tree a point value. Points are determined by a tree's height, crown spread and trunk size. The formula adds the circumference in inches (measured at a point 4.5 feet above the ground) to the height in feet, to one-fourth of the average crown spread. MDC awards official plaques of recognition to both the nominator and the owner of a champion tree.

The black hickory is usually found in acid or dry upland soils and is usually considered an indicator of poor soil. They can be identified by looking for the last bud on a twig, which is fuzzy and rust-colored with small yellow dots. The leaves usually have seven leaflets. The black hickory nut is pear-shaped with a thin husk but the shell is hard to crack. Squirrels and mice eat the nuts. The bark is dark gray to black with deep furrows. Hickory leaves are required food for many of our most beautiful and remarkable moths, including the larva of the giant regal moth—also known as the hickory horned devil.

State champion trees are often discovered and nominated by members of the public.MDC recommends that if a person feels they may know a possible candidate they should first correctly identify the tree and measure the trunk as previously described. They can then go to on MDC's website and download the nomination form, fill it out and submit it with a photo of the tree. A complete list and specifications of all current Missouri champion trees can also be found there.