State champion tree found in Neosho man's front yard

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NEOSHO, Mo. – Dean Ogden knew the slippery elm tree in his front yard was big, but he had no idea it was one for the record book.

"I didn't know it was a state record," he said of the tree that towers over the yard of his home near Neosho, "but every time I went out there and weeded around it I thought 'Man, that's a big tree.' "

A call to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) led to a visit to and some measuring by MDC Community Forester Jon Skinner. Skinner's measurements revealed a slippery elm tree that had no equal in the state.

On Wednesday (Dec. 17), Ogden received a plaque from MDC recognizing the slippery elm in his front yard as a state champion tree. This means it's the largest of its kind that's ever been found in the state.

"The tree sits off the road a bit and I hadn't noticed it before," said Skinner, who works out of MDC's Joplin office. "Neither did other (MDC) foresters who worked in this area. It's probably been a state champion tree for as long as I've worked here (more than 12 years)."

MDC's State Champion Tree program recognizes the largest trees recorded in Missouri of species that are native to the state. MDC and American Forests use a formula to asses a point value for large trees. Points are determined by a tree's height, crown spread and trunk size. The formula adds the circumference in inches (measured at 4.5 feet above the ground), height (in feet), and one-fourth of the average crown spread. Recognizing state champion trees is a valuable part of forestry management.

"Champion trees provide educational opportunities for the public to learn about trees and what they provide us," Skinner said.

Ogden's elm measured 82 feet high and had a circumference of 14 feet, 7 inches (at 4.5 feet above the ground). Skinner noted that the tree appears to be in good health.

Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), also known as red elm, is found across Missouri. It's a water-loving tree that reaches its largest size on moist, rich soils on lower slopes and in bottomlands. Skinner said the tree's large dimensions were likely the result of Ogden's yard being located in a stream valley. In this location, the tree is in good soil, receives abundant moisture and is protected from strong winds. Wood from slippery elm trees is commonly used for lumber and furniture, but Ogden said he won't be cutting his one-of-a-kind elm any time soon.

"I'm not cutting it down," he chuckled. "It's going to stay here as long as I'm here."