St. Louis area state champion tree toppled by violent storm

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St. Louis County — The ferocious storm that rocked St. Charles and St. Louis counties the evening of Friday, May 31, generated nine tornadoes according to the National Weather Service, leaving hundreds of homes damaged and some destroyed, and stranding nearly 100,000 residents without power. The storm also robbed the St. Louis area of a state record.

The Missouri State Champion eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoids) was toppled May 31, apparently the casualty of extremely strong winds, says the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). The tree was located on Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in Spanish Lake.

The conservation area was flooded when the swelling Missouri and Mississippi Rivers topped its levees on June 2, leaving only the visitor center dry. The champion tree had fallen prior to the flooding however.

According to Colleen Scott, Interpretive Center Supervisor at Columbia Bottom, the downed tree was discovered Saturday morning. “It looked like it had been twisted off its base,” reported Scott. “A four-to-five foot high portion of the trunk is still standing, but the rest was snapped off.” Scott added that there was no charred wood or other evidence of a lightning strike.

The tree had a circumference of 310 inches, height of 127 feet, and 103 foot spread. It was designated State Championship eastern cottonwood in May of 2012. The Columbia Bottom giant was also second largest of any tree on record in the state of Missouri. The largest Missouri tree currently recorded is a slightly larger baldcypress in the Bootheel, with a circumference of 320 inches, height of 128 feet and a 73 foot spread.

With the Columbia Bottom tree gone, the State Championship will now be passed on to an eastern cottonwood located on private property in Platte County.

Determining Missouri’s Champion Trees is 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. The cottonwood at Columbia Bottom earned a score of 463, trailing the above-mentioned baldypress by a mere three points.

More information on Missouri’s State Champion Trees can be found at

Eastern cottonwoods are among North America’s largest hardwood trees, often found growing near rivers. They typically live 70 to 100 years, but have the potential to survive four centuries in ideal growing conditions. Cottonwoods are often known for the seedpods they produce in early summer, which split open to release multitudes of small seeds on cotton-like strands.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is located off Riverview Drive, approximately three miles north of I-270.