Thursday, June 07, 2007

Introducing University of Illinois Extension’s Big Tree Program

Introducing University of Illinois Extension’s Big Tree Program

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Picture a sycamore tree that’s 119 feet tall, as tall as 13-story building. Now make the trunk of your tall tree wide, 31 feet around at chest height, so you would need five friends with you in order to touch your hands together in a circle around it. Then give your giant sycamore a crown that spreads out to an average width of 134 feet, 15 feet wider than the tree is tall (and more than wide enough to cover the lots many of us live on). As you might have guessed, such a tree does exist. It stands on private property in Christian County, and it is the champion of champions on the Illinois Big Tree Register.

The register is one component of the Illinois Big Tree Program, which is based in the U of I’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and coordinated by extension forester, Jay Hayek. [Photo: Volunteer Big Tree Inspectors measure the girth of the state--and national--champion Shumard Oak (Quercus Shumardii) in Union County, Illinois. Photo by Larry Mahan.] The goal of the Big Tree Program is to identify the biggest individual of every species of tree native to Illinois, using a scoring system that takes into account height, girth, and crown spread. At the same time, however, the Big Tree Program is also very much about people—promoting a greater awareness of trees as a natural resource in Illinois, and encouraging people to get out and enjoy them.

To help people get connected with the Big Tree Program, Hayek has established a web site for it. There you can read how big tree measurements are taken, obtain a form to nominate a tree, and view the list of 125 current state champions. Entries on the list include measurements, of course, along with information about where each tree is located, who nominated it, and when it was certified.

The tallest tree on the list reaches a height of 165 feet, which is 46 feet taller than the overall champion. It’s a red oak found in Dixon Springs State Park, near the far southern tip of the state. The champion listed with the thickest trunk is a baldcypress tree that measures 34 feet around, which grows in the Cache River State Natural Area, also in the far south.

Residents of central Illinois may be interested to know that Sangamon County is home to eight champion trees, more than any other county in the state. These include a 98-foot-tall American elm and an 88-foot tall silver maple. The state champion trees closest to Champaign-Urbana are a shingle oak and a yellow buckeye located in Danville. Both of these trees grow on private property, but they can be seen from the street at the addresses listed for them on the Big Tree Register.

If big trees interest you, you might consider joining the network of certified Big Tree inspectors that extension forester Jay Hayek is working to develop throughout Illinois. Volunteer inspectors participate in a one-day workshop where they learn to measure and certify Big Tree Champions using fairly simple equipment and straightforward math. Hayek envisions training enough inspectors to check out reports of potential champions anywhere in the state, and to help make sure champion trees are recertified every 10 years.

The next Big Tree inspector workshop will be conducted at the Sugar Grove Nature Center in Funks Grove, Illinois, southwest of Bloomington, on Saturday, June 16. For more information about that workshop call the Sugar Grove Nature Center at (309) 874-2174, or click here for a PDF version of the registration form.