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Some Trees Here are National Champions - and They're Probably Thirsty

Drought has Texas homeowners concerned their trees - in some cases, newly reigned champion trees - are in trouble. American Forests and The Davey Tree Expert Company discuss the National Register of Big Trees and the importance of planting and caring for trees and forests in helping to sustain a healthy ecosystem.

Read the story below or see it in the Bellaire Examiner.


Some Trees Here are National Champions - and They're Probably Thirsty

Bellaire Examiner

Just in time for the drought and water restrictions, three newly identified monster-sized trees in Houston have each earned title as the largest of its species in the country, according to American Forests’ 2011 National Register of Big Trees, an online database.

The trio, at undisclosed locations on private property, includes a 60-foot-tall Japanese privet, a 55-foot-tall tallow tree and an 18-foot Mexican plum tree. They join Houston’s other massive record holder, a Texas hawthorne, which has held its title since 2003.

Elsewhere in the state, another 20 newly crowned tree champions bring the Texas total to 86, which makes it one really, really big tree away from overtaking Arizona for second place. (First Place Florida has 106 national champions.)

American Forests has designated more than 750 champion trees in 45 states and the District of Columbia. The organization began in 1940 to restore and protect the urban and rural forest. There is turnover at the record-holding top, since trees grow and die, whether due to age, fire and, well, drought.

An American Forests spokeswoman said a homeowner near Meyerland with one of this year’s winners in his yard reported the drought has him “concerned” and trying some unique watering solutions that adhere to water restrictions.

So, just how big are these monster trees? American Forest materials explain that Texas’ largest 2011 addition to the list, a Rio Grande cottonwood at the Fort Davis National Historic Site, is 29 feet around and 79 feet tall. Lying down, it would barely fit on the Houston Rockets basketball court. This new champion holds a special place in Texas big tree history, as it replaces the previous Rio Grande cottonwood champion, which was also found at Fort Davis, as that tree succumbed earlier this year to the Rockhouse Fire, one of the worst wildfires in Texas history.

Some big tree hunters specialize in finding the biggest candidate of smaller tree species. For instance, Texas’ smallest big tree champion and a 2011 addition to the register is a Reverchon hawthorn in Dallas that is only nine feet tall — but it’s still the biggest one of its kind.

The nation’s big tree hunters — whose ranks include all sorts of people from retired teachers to insurance agents —measure trees’ height, circumference and average crown spread. Points are awarded for these dimensions, a system that determines which trees retain their top spots and which are dethroned. Winning champion trees are compiled annually in the National Register of Big Trees, organized by American Forests.

Since 1940, American Forests’ National Big Tree program has promoted the importance of planting and caring for trees and forests in helping to sustain healthy ecosystems and life on earth. The program has campaigned to locate and save the biggest specimens of more than 800 native and naturalized tree species in the United States. It is a major feat for trees to survive disease and pests, the forces of nature and mistreatment from humans, but big trees are emblematic of what any tree can become if it is planted in the right place and is properly maintained.

Every year, these majestic living giants are honored in the National Register of Big Trees. With the support of American Forests’ long-time sponsor The Davey Tree Expert Co., the Register is published exclusively online.

While the nation’s most avid Big Tree hunters are equipped with hypsometers, relascopes and lasers, amateur tree hunters can get started in their own backyards with sticks and tape measures.

To learn more about American Forests’ Big Tree program, including how to measure a tree and to view the 2011 National Register of Big Trees, visit www.americanforests.org/resources/bigtrees.

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