COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) recently awarded State Champion Tree honors to farm owners in rural Howard County for harboring the state’s largest Osage orange tree.
Osage orange (Maclura pomifera), also known as hedge apple, has a long and interesting history of use by both Native Americans and early pioneers. Its wood was once in demand for making hubs and wheel rims for horse-drawn wagons, mine support timbers, posts, and many other uses where decay resistance was important. The trees were promoted as a “living fence” in the early 1800s, and functioned as hedge fences long before the invention of barbed wire.
Seventh generation landowner Derek Bryant and his wife Jamie operate Blue Bell Farm near Fayette, and take pride in protecting the natural history of their property.
“For me, the tree is a direct link to the past, and old things capture our imagination,” said Derek Bryant. “It’s incredible to think that my great-great-great-great grandparents touched that tree, enjoyed its shade, used its wood, and climbed it as children. We’re really lucky it’s still here and hasn’t been inconveniently in anyone’s way for 200 years.”
The Bryants recently hosted a wedding on their farm, and Kailey Brooks was working the event as a floral designer when she noticed the record-setting tree near the farmhouse.
“I was setting up the wedding flowers when I saw the tree,” said Brooks. “I only knew it was a large tree, and I wanted to know what type of tree it was. So I contacted my boyfriend’s father, who has experience with champion trees and tree identification, and he told me the tree was an Osage orange and a potential contender for a state champion.”
MDC Community Forester Ann Koenig took an official measurement using a uniform formula to assess a point value to big trees. The formula, which accounts for the tree’s height, crown spread, and trunk size, scored 362 points for the tree Brooks nominated – with a 259-inch circumference, 86-foot height, and 68-foor spread of branches.
Upon determining the tree to be the largest of its kind on record, Koenig awarded plaques and bragging rights to Brooks and the landowners who continue to care for the tree.
“Missouri’s State Champion Tree Program recognizes the largest known tree of each kind of native tree in Missouri,” said Koenig. “Like the Olympics for athletes, the program puts a spotlight on those trees that outgrow all others of their kind.”
In an effort to help generate awareness and appreciation for our state’s trees and forests, MDC invites everyone to join in the search for Missouri’s champion trees.
“I love nature and the sight of old trees,” Brooks added. Being able to find this tree was a testament to the resilience of Missouri’s trees.”
To learn more about MDC’s State Champion Tree Program visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z4i.